The EU Framework on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The EU Framework on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

In the development of EU initiatives on the rights of persons with disabilities, these overarching legal and policy frameworks are important to consider:


UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD) is an international human rights treaty that spells out that all persons with disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies that all persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural life of the community, just as anyone else.

The Convention says what public and private authorities must do to ensure and promote the full enjoyment of these rights by all people with disabilities. The Convention was adopted in 2006 by the United Nations and became the world’s most quickly ratified human rights treaty. It was also the first international human rights treaty ratified not only by countries but also by a regional organisation – the European Union.

All EU Member States and the European Union have ratified this important legal framework. By participating in the Convention, the EU is committed to implementing and promoting the full realisation of all human rights for all persons with disabilities through the adoption of new political tools (legislation, policies, and programmes), and the review of existing policies to make sure they respect the human rights of persons with disabilities. 


European Charter of Fundamental Rights

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the Charter) brings together the fundamental rights of everyone living in the EU. The Charter is legally binding in the EU. It means that all the institutions and bodies of the EU, including national governments, need to respect the rights contained in the Charter when drafting EU law and policy. At the national level, policymakers should respect the Charter when implementing EU law.

The Charter states that “the EU recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration, and participation in the life of the community” (article 26). It also prohibits any discrimination on the basis of disability (article 21).


European Disability Strategies

The European Commission has adopted various strategies related to disability policy, including a list of concrete actions and a timetable on advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. 

The European Disability Strategy was adopted in 1996 and laid the foundation for future disability law and policy initiatives. This first Strategy was aimed at identifying and removing all barriers to equal opportunities and achieving full participation for persons with disabilities in all aspects of life.

In 2003, the European Disability Action Plan was adopted as a follow up to the 1996’s Strategy. 

To help implement the CRPD, the Commission adopted the European Disability Strategy 2010–2020, which focuses on eliminating barriers in eight main areas: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health, and external action. For more information, please visit the European Commission’s website.


European Structural and Investment Funds

The EU provides funding for a broad range of projects and programmes covering areas such as: regional and urban development, employment and social inclusion, agriculture and rural development, maritime and fisheries policies, research and innovation, and humanitarian aid.

The European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF) are the second biggest part of the EU budget. For 2014-2020, these Funds aim, amongst others, to improve accessibility, fight poverty and social exclusion, and increase education and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the EU. 

The Common Regulation of the ESIF says that when using EU money, EU Member States cannot discriminate against persons with disabilities and should ensure accessibility. These two conditions (non-discrimination and accessibility) need to be fulfilled in the preparation and implementation of the funds. Representative organisations of persons with disabilities need to be consulted, involved and should receive support. In addition, more rules need to be followed when using money from specific EU funds such as the European Social Fund, European Regional Development, etc. These rules promote the rights of persons with disabilities, and include a prohibition on using these funds to finance institutional care