On 3 October 2017, the European Economic and Social Committee Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights organised a public hearing on the follow-up to the UNCRPD Committee’s concluding observations to the EU two years after their publication. The aim of the event was to offer EU Institutions and civil society organisations the opportunity to discuss the future of the EU Disability strategy after 2020 and the next steps that the European Commission and the members of the EU Framework for the UNCRPD will take.
The Opening Doors campaign coordinator Katerina Nanou presented examples from Croatia, Austria and Romania, calling for adequate support & funding that would ensure the right of every child to grow up in a family environment and have access to inclusive education, specialised support & quality community-based services.
— katerina nanou (@katnanou) October 3, 2017
In her presentation, Katerina noted that numerous barriers exist in Austria for people with disabilities which prevent them from equal and independent participation in many areas of life, and firstly public life. She added that in January 2016, the Austria Equal Treatment Act has been expanded to cover accessibility issues in the already existing buildings. The law stated that all services in public areas have to be accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities. Thus, it has yet to be proved if the law has been implemented adequately.
Furthermore, despite the right to inclusive education, the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the mainstream education system in Austria is not ensured. Recent statistics show that nationwide there are only 35,8 % of pupils with special needs who attend special schools, the reason being lack of infrastructure and personal resources for pupils with special needs.
Moreover, there are no measures that would enable independent living in the communities. The general concern is lack of independent housing with personal assistance. In addition, there are still traditional large-scale institutions for adults with disabilities in Austria with approximately 13.000 persons still living in them. Two thousand residents live in the institutions with more than 100 inhabitants in each of them.
In Croatia, a recent research study showed that the average age of children with disabilities in institutional care is 12. The majority of children (63%) have multiple disabilities, with more than half of them having a low social and economic status. The average duration of placement for children lasts four years. 30% of children are placed in the institutions situated further than 150 kilometres away from home and 40% of children live in the institutions more than 100 km away from home. According to the same study, individual plans for institutionalised children are just something formal, with content often being copy and pasted from the same template. Individual planning does not exist in the medical institutions. Children with severe intellectual disabilities under the age of three are getting institutionalised without any comprehensive communication or consent from parents. Some institutions for persons with disabilities are not adjusted to meet their special needs. “This means, for example, that children and young people who have physical disabilities — the majority of whom are either bed-ridden or wheelchair-bound — are situated in the building without elevator on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the institution,” Ms Nanou concluded.
In Romania, she continued, inclusive education is regulated by a series of law and governmental decisions; however, in practice — more often than not — this does not happen. While there are sporadic cases where children are included in schools and have support teachers, there are lots of instances where children with special needs (either from the communities or from childcare system) are not accepted in mainstream schools. There is a series of causes for this (such as from people working on child protection or from teachers that they believe that children should not be placed in mainstream education as they will not perform well or because they want to keep their jobs.)
Finally, Katerina Nanou mentioned that Structural Funds has been decided to be used to close 50 state care institutions for children in Romania. A third of the old-type institutions that have been listed for closure include institutions for children with disabilities. This group of children is over-represented in institutional care and makes up almost 60% of all the children who remain in Romanian institutions. The closure of these institutions will start in 2018.
“The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children Campaign calls on the EU to continue playing an important role and for even further in the implementation of the UNCRPD. European Investment Structural Funds should be implemented towards the development of robust child protection systems that will provide children with disabilities and their families with all needed services in the communities, including access to inclusive education that will allow them to live independently and grow up in a family environment. The post-2020 EU disability strategy should guarantee that no child enters the alternative care system due to its disability and that no children grow up in institutional care settings.”