Independent living for all, institutions are not an option: Supporting ENIL’s 2017 Freedom Drive


On 27 September 2017, the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) – the Opening Doors national partner in Belgium – held the 8th Freedom Drive which brought together activists from 19 countries to Brussels to demand independent living and promote peer support and celebration of disability rights.

The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign Coordinator Katerina Nanou marched together with more than 200 children and adults with disabilities in Brussels asking for dignity and independent living for all in the community. The drive started at the European Parliament, passed the European Economic Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and finished at the European Commission. One of the key Freedom Drive demands was the end of institutional care for people with disabilities and that they should have the right to independent living in the community where they should enjoy their rights fully and have control over their lives.

The Freedom Drivers met with Members of the European Parliament, the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility Marianne Thyssen and other EU officials and organisations. During the march, nine-year-old Wilma who has a muscular disease and uses a wheelchair spoke about living with her parents and going to school in Sweden. To Wilma, Independent Living means that she and her family can do the same things as other families with or without disabilities. She does not mind having a disability since her friends do not treat her differently from anyone else.

Michela Costa from Hope and Homes for Children,  one of the leading partners of the Opening Doors Campaign, was invited to speak at the ENIL Conference ‘Independent Living: A Voice for All!’ on behalf of the Opening Doors campaign. The conference became part of a series of events of 2017 Freedom Drive. Among others, discussions during the conference we focused on how the right to independent living relates to children and young people with disabilities and what needs to be done to ensure they have access and fully enjoy it. It also focused on raising awareness about the importance of listening to disabled children and young people and discussions how to better involve them in the work of disabled people’s and other non-governmental organisations.

In her presentation, Michela shared some of the key lessons learned, but also some of the challenges and complexities linked to achieving the transition from institutional to community- and family-based care for children. She emphasised the need to build an enabling environment for families and children with disabilities as a precondition for successful reunification or placement into family-based care like kinship or foster care. “For this, development of a network of community-based services, both mainstream and specialised is needed. Their network should range –  from access to health to inclusive education, accessibility, personal assistance budgets, respite measures for family carers,” she added. Lastly, Ms Costa illustrated how the Opening Doors campaign operates at EU and national level, laying the conditions for systemic child protection and care reform across our 16 campaign countries.
  • For photos from ENIL 2017 Freedom Drive check the Facebook page.