Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
European section of United Cities and Local Governments


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Governance and citizenship

Survey - 04.03.2021

Local governments’ work on disability rights... and how we can go further!
It’s another milestone moment in the Von der Leyen Commission’s drive to build a genuine Union of Equality for Europe! The EU executive’s Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 was officially presented on Wednesday, 3 March, outlining the actions it will take to guarantee the rights and equal opportunities of people with disabilities.

The new EU Strategy supports the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which has been signed by all EU countries. The Convention mandates for instance that people with disabilities be able to live independently and have access to public transport, services and information without hindrance.

From accessible buses to municipal administration, disability rights are an eminently local issue. Indeed, the UN Convention is binding on all levels of government and the EU Strategy includes several provisions directly concerning local government. The European Commission notably plans to establish “a dialogue on disability with existing networks of local and regional authorities.”

But how can equal rights for people with disabilities be made a local reality? What are the needs municipalities, regions and their associations on disability rights? To answer these questions, CEMR circulated a survey among associations of local and regional governments and their members, with 34 respondents in 10 countries responding. Given the small sample size, the survey provides qualitative data on local governments’ work and makes no pretention to representativeness.

Obstacles and solutions

While most responding associations and governments were aware of and involved in implementing the UN Convention, this was by no means universal. Over 3 out of 4 respondents indicated they were familiar with the UN CRPD and over 6 out of 10 are involved in national processes implementing the Convention.

The respondents identified a number of obstacles to local protection of disability rights. These include lack of funding and capacity to develop targeted services, lack of clear guidelines and information and excessive bureaucracy.

In terms of potential solutions, over 3 out of 4 respondents suggested EU support would be helpful, particularly for guidance on how to mainstream disability rights in policymaking and for good practice guides on facilitating accessibility in both urban and rural areas. Over 9 out 10 respondents expressed interest in peer-exchange and capacity-building with other local and regional governments and their associations.

To meet these needs, the EU’s Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values Programme should provide better access to financial support for local governments and greater investment in social infrastructure and community-based services. It is also essential to further develop communication and cooperation mechanisms on disability rights between the EU, all levels of government and civil society.

Best practices: Local actions for disability rights

Many local and regional governments and their associations are already taking action on this issue. The City of Sibiu in Romania has partnered with many NGOs and set up an Occupational Centre for People with Disabilities, providing invaluable counselling services and support to improve people’s social integration and quality life.

Local government associations are also active and some are intimately involved in national strategies to protect disability rights. For instance, the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SAMBAND) is responsible for raising awareness of disability issues among local elected officials so as to better implement the UN Convention.

Meanwhile, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) developed a far-reaching Local Government Delivery Plan to contribute to disability rights alongside the Scottish government’s national plan. With the right European supportive framework and collaboration between local governments, we will enable more such local success stories to ensure everyone in Europe has equal rights.

Drawing on the UN CRPD,.the Association of Netherlands municipalities (VNG International) will be running a programme We Are Able! aiming at promoting country-to-country learning, With a focus on Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda, the programme will foster exchange of experiences on the implementation of the Local Inclusion Agenda by linking Dutch stakeholders to their southern peers.
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