A new opportunity to mainstream disability in the foundation sector

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At the beginning of March, the European Commission (EC) adopted the new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030[1], which provides the roadmap for both the EU and Member States to progress on all areas of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities[2].

The European Foundation Centre (EFC) has been working for more than 20 years on mainstreaming disability in different EU policy areas. In line with this work, we believe the publication of the Strategy offers a good opportunity to reflect on the role of the philanthropic sector in such a relevant topic as the one of addressing the diverse challenges that persons with disabilities face.

The Strategy establishes key initiatives around three main themes: rights at the European level; independent living and autonomy; and non-discrimination and equal opportunities. To implement it, the EC will create a Disability Platform, bringing together a variety of stakeholders.

Another relevant feature of this new Strategy is the launching in 2022 by the EC of a European resource centre called “AccessibleEU”, to build a knowledge base of information and good practices on accessibility across sectors. Experts and professionals from the world of accessibility will also participate in it, so we anticipate that it will be a good platform to reinforce the leadership in this field at a European level of the foundations that are members of the EFC, like Fundación ONCE.

The Strategy also presents and develops several indicators on disability, which in our view are quite exhaustive, including a wide range of topics like childhood, education, social protection, poverty, social exclusion, living conditions, health, use of new technologies, etc. Those targets and goals will be linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals[3] and therefore, social impact investment is needed to complement the necessary resources to achieve them, especially after a socio-economic and health crisis like the one we are facing, where the most affected are the most vulnerable, like people with disabilities.

Apart from the increasing mainstreaming of disability across the EU policy spectrum, one of the main features of the Strategy is the strong focus that the EC places on the role of social economy, which is integrated by companies that are united around the values of primacy of people and social objectives over capital; democratic governance; solidarity; and the reinvestment of most profits to carry out sustainable development objectives. Indeed, social economy can further play an important role in the full integration of people with disabilities. Indeed, the Strategy recognises social economy as “indispensable for decent living for all persons with disabilities” and includes several important mentions to it through the text.

In this sense, even if the tandem social economy – disability is only starting to be recognised by EU institutions, those explicit mentions in such a relevant document for the disability sector as the Strategy is a breakthrough on its own, which undeniably helps consolidating the role that social economy plays in the integration of people with disabilities.

By way of conclusion, we cannot hide that the EC’s proposal leaves us with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it incorporates some important proposals for which our sector has been advocating, but on the other, it does not reflect the degree of ambition that we would have desired.

In particular, some of the priorities of the disability movement are only collected as mere declarations of intent without sufficient specifics, which has already led some important organisations from the European disability ecosystem to request the preparation of an Action Plan that develops the Strategy in a more concrete way. New legislation is also lacking, beyond the call for Member States to unblock the adoption of the Equal Treatment Directive, even though it is true that the door is left open to a possible revision of the directive on the accessibility of websites and of the regulations on passenger rights in the different modes of transport.

Finally, it is encouraging that the EC has committed to carry out the evaluation of the Strategy in 2024 and has left the door open to “update objectives and actions”. This is a window of opportunity that we must try to take advantage of to obtain new commitments. In this sense, the framework that the EC itself is developing to monitor compliance with the objectives and actions of the Strategy, which should be available before the end of this year, can be useful to us as foundations. In this regard, our activity in Brussels and our work of constant dialogue and advocacy with the European institutions as members of the EFC and more particularly, of the EFC Disability Thematic Network (DTN), must continue. We look forward to continuing to jointly reflect together with the DTN members and the European philanthropic sector about how our sector can continue making a difference in defending the rights of people with disabilities and improving their conditions as full members of our democratic society.

[1]https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1484&langId=en

[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

[3] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/

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