People with disabilities represent around one sixth of the EU working population (over 50 million in total), but their employment rate is comparatively low.
Many of the disadvantages experienced by disabled people throughout their lives have their origin in a lack of access to opportunities (and therefore the poverty rate for disabled people is roughly double that for non-disabled adults).
A disability is not in itself a handicap, but it can become one in a situation or an environment that makes things difficult for the disabled person. A handicap is relative and arises in interaction between the individual and the work environment. A disabled person may be handicapped in certain work situations but not in others.
Many working tasks, which were previously performed by disabled people, no longer exist due to advancing technological developments and, in particular, the use of computers. Many disabled people feel unwanted, and feel that they do not have a place in the labor force in the way they have had previously. Young people find it difficult to get a foot in the door due to the limited number of practical training positions available. Many disabled people do not ask for modified working tasks or rehabilitation at work simply because they do not want their employer to know about their disability.
The low participation of disabled people in the labor force can be due to both discriminatory and non-discriminatory obstacles.
This calls for a combination of instruments to fight discrimination, provide active support and remove accessibility barriers.
The European Council identified disabled people as one of the key priority groups.
The European Commission Directive requires employers (and training providers) to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ to meet the needs of disabled people. Unfortunately, the Directive is not very precise. Some adjustments only require small changes, but that doesn´t implicit a serious change for disabled people.
In the beginning existing member states of the European Union should have had anti-discrimination laws in place by December 2003, but in practice they were given the possibility of requesting an extension to this period until December 2006. Member states joining in 2004 were required to have such legislation as a requirement for accession and Bulgaria and Romania faced the same requirements on accession in 2007. Member states that fail to meet their obligations can be taken to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission.
Although all member states have adopted the Directive into national laws there follows a period in which the Commission evaluates the adequacy of the national processes and this can be drawn-out.
The Directive covers issues directly related to employment but also includes vocational training and it is important to note that ‘vocational training’ is very widely defined including most post-school education, technical training and universities.
The aim is to stimulate inclusive participation of people with disabilities and to work towards full enjoyment of fundamental rights.
This is done through:
- More flexibility at the labor market
- Accessibility of goods, services and infrastructures
- Protection against discrimination.’
If the implementation of EU policy in national legislation and practice on ‘reasonable accommodations’ in services and employment has been problematic overall, there is still some justification for optimism.
In all countries there are signs that the current period is changed a lot considering the accessibility for disabled people. There is to expect a higher participation rate and understand that appropriate provision needs to be made to accommodate this change. In this context the direction of European policy has created a favorable environment.
(If you want to have further information about the European guideline follow this link to the Action Plan of 2006 concerning the improvement for disabled persons: http://www.coe.int/t/e/social_cohesion/soc-sp/Rec_2006_5%20Disability%20Action%20Plan.pdf)