Today is the International Day of Persons with Disability. On this occasion, the Opening Doors Campaign calls for real inclusion of children with disabilities in Europe.
At the recent European Convention against Poverty (EPAP), Dominik Drdul, a young advocate for children with disabilities, addressed EU leaders Martin Schultz and Marianne Thyssen saying: “Albert Einstein once said: “If we judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” […] many times it happened to me that someone has focused on my weaknesses, not my strengths.”
Every day Dominik and civil society organisations advocate for a real integration in society of people with a disability. To obtain that, we will have to see a real change in the way disabilities are perceived.
“No legitimate justification now exists for the maintenance of large-scale institutions for children with disabilities” says Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General of Eurochild, Opening Doors Campaign leader. “There is a huge body of good practice demonstrating the feasibility of reforming mainstream services to provide more inclusive environments as well as of delivering specialised and intensive treatment and support that can ensure a high-quality family life even for the more severely disabled children” she concludes.
Currently, children with disabilities are heavily overrepresented in institutional care: across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, they are almost 17 times more likely to be institutionalised than children who are not disabled (UNICEF, “Children under the age of three in formal care in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 2012, p.45). The most important reasons for that are prejudice, discrimination and the belief that the complex needs of disabled children cannot be met with appropriate care in their families. Children with disabilities are judged on what they cannot achieve, which has resulted in medical and psycho-social personnel in maternity wards encouraging mothers to leave their newborns with disabilities in state care. Despite the growing awareness of international norms such as the UNCRC and the UNCRPD, such practices are still commonplace (UNICEF, ibid., p. 78).
That is why next week, on 10th of December, the Opening Doors Campaign will bring the Tanev family to the European Parliament to testify about their experience of being persuaded in the hospital maternity ward to leave their child born with Down syndrome in an institution. Now reunited with their son, the Tanevs will address an audience of MEP’s, European Commission officials, representatives of Member States and European and national experts, to raise awareness that children with disabilities are still being separated from their families and segrated from society.
This view needs to change and our societies need to change to value and accommodate people with a diversity of needs. Opening Doors Campaign is co-organising the event at the European Parliament with the European Expert Group to support this transformation to support a transition from institutional to community-based care in line with the international human rights standards.
The UN conventions on the Rights of the child and on the rights of persons with disabilities set clear international standards on supporting children with disabilities and their families within local communities.