European Union Region · Article · 3 December, 2021

The new European Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Giampiero Griffo, member of the Board of Directors of the European Disability Forum and co-director of the Robert Castel Centre for Governmentality and Disability Studies (CeRC) of the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples.

European Union Policies for European Citizens with Disabilities

The European Union (EU) has been building a progressive strategy to support the rights of European citizens with disabilities for several decades. From the 1996 resolution adopting the UN standard norms [1] to the adoption of Article 13 in the Treaty establishing the European Union (Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997), which included the question of disability in the context of non-discrimination for the first time[2]; through the inclusion of Article 21 and Article 26 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Nice 2000)[3]; to the EU Anti-Discrimination Law[4] and the European Year of People with Disabilities (2003)[5], when 10,000 initiatives in all countries made European citizens aware of the situations of people living with disabilities. All these initiatives have led to increasing attention and commitment to protect the rights of these citizens who now account for 16% of the EU population, some 90 million people.

After that year – also on the basis of the Madrid Declaration[6] – the European strategy was based on 4 pillars: (i) non-discrimination, (ii) inclusion in all EU policies and programmes, (iii) work on market access and (iv) full participation in decisions affecting them taken by the European Disability Forum[7] (EDF). The latter has been important in the process of developing policies and legal and social instruments for protection, support and inclusion. Because of its authority, acknowledged by all the European institutions, its capacity to propose, its actions in different European institutions, in the European Parliament and in member countries, EDF’s experience is the most advanced level of participation in the decisions that affect people with disabilities.

Transposition of EU law represents about one third of national law. EU legislation on disability has been very significant. The EU has legislated on transport accessibility, protecting the right to mobility; accessibility to new technologies and the information society; market accessibility; work and employment; women, youth and children; education and training; product standardisation; public procurement; and international cooperation. The accessibility restriction in the use of the European Structural Funds is particularly important – approximately 1/3 of the entire EU budget[8]. Another element is the European Pillar of Social Rights[9] proclaimed jointly by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission (EC) in 2017. After the EU became a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in January 2011 based on Article 44 of the Convention, in 2016 the EU presented its first report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recommended the final comments[10] . Since this is the first human rights treaty it has signed, the EU is deeply committed to fulfilling the resulting international undertakings.


In 2004, in the wake of the success of the European Year, a European Action Plan for people with disabilities based on equal opportunities was launched[11]. The purpose of the plan was to fully implement Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, reinforce mainstreaming of disability issues in relevant EU policies and improve accessibility for all. Thereafter, every two years, the EC will publish a report on the general situation of people with disabilities in the enlarged EU until a new instrument of European initiatives is defined in 2010. In the first phase, the Action Plan (2004-2005) focused on four priority actions related to employment: a) access to and maintenance of employment including the fight against discrimination; b) lifelong learning to support and enhance employability, adaptability, personal development and active citizenship; c) new technologies to emancipate people with disabilities and facilitate their access to employment; d) accessibility of the public built environment to enhance participation in the workplace and integration into the economy and society. In the following years, two reports (2006-2007 and 2008-2009) and updates of the objectives set were presented.

However, the Action Plan was not very effective, so a new instrument was developed: the European Disability Strategy (2010-2020)[12]. The overall goal of the Strategy was to enable people with disabilities to exercise all their rights and to benefit from full participation in the European economy and society, particularly through the single market. This strategy was more organic, defining eight areas of intervention and objectives of the EU and specific deadlines. The areas were: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external actions. Essential mechanisms were also defined[13] for the application of the UN Convention within European institutions. It also identified the necessary support for funding, research, advocacy, statistics and data collection.

The new strategy on the rights of persons with disabilities (2021-2030)

In March 2021, the European Commission presented its new strategy An Equality Union: Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. After a series of technical evaluations by experts on the impact of the old strategy and a public consultation, the strategy contains previous experiences and is divided into two specific areas of work: that of direct EU competence and that of shared competence and the competence of the Member States and regional and local authorities.

It would be impossible to describe the long list of goals and initiatives in an article like this. Instead, we will identify the most important issues and outline the underpinnings and tools on which the strategy will work. “The strategy encourages an intersectoral perspective, which addresses the specific obstacles faced by people with disabilities who are at the intersection of identities (gender, race, ethnicity, sex, religion), or in difficult socio-economic situations (…) Within the collective of people with disabilities, women, children, the elderly, the homeless, refugees, migrants, gypsies and other ethnic minorities in need of special attention. (…) By complementing the equality strategies adopted to combat all forms of discrimination, this Strategy will help to achieve an Equality Union and strengthen Europe’s role as a global partner in addressing inequalities, as well as how to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals[14] and to promote human rights”[15].

The strategy identifies eight areas of intervention that it then articulates with specific sub-areas. The brief description of the individual activities is full of commitments and job prospects and is accompanied by data that motivates the initiatives.

A first element is accessibility, a factor that enables rights, autonomy and equalityWithin this policy area, by 2023 the EC will review the functioning of the internal market for assistive technologies to determine the necessary new measures. The EC will review the legislative framework on energy efficiency of buildings, which also affects accessibility improvements, through the renovation rules[16]. In 2021, the EC will provide Member States with practical guidance to support the implementation of the accessibility obligations of the Directive on public procurement and promote training for public buyers to acquire accessible goods; integrate accessibility and inclusion into the enhanced EU strategy for digital public administration; carry out a review of the legal framework on passenger rights including the rights of people with disabilities and people with reduced mobility in air, maritime and bus transport[17]; carry out a review of the Regulation on Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network to strengthen the provisions on accessibility[18]; carry out a review of the Urban Mobility Package to reinforce sustainable mobility planning. In 2022, it will evaluate the application of the Web Accessibility Directive with a view to updating it; launch an inventory of railway infrastructure assets[19]; launch a European resource centre (AccessibleEU) to increase the consistency of accessibility policies and facilitate access to relevant knowledge.

In the second area of the Strategy, which deals with the enjoyment of EU rights, by 2023, the EC proposes creating a European Disability Card for freedom of movement and residence, which is recognised in all Member States. The scheme will encourage participation in the democratic process through exercise of electoral rights by under-represented groups, including people with disabilities. The EC will work with Member States and the European Parliament to uphold the political rights of people with disabilities on equal terms with the others, working with Member States to support full participation in elections and the accessibility of European elections, seeking to address the needs of citizens with disabilities in the compendium on electronic voting provided for in the European Action Plan for Democracy. It will also support inclusive democratic participation for people with disabilities through the new Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) programme. In 2022, it will debate inclusive democracy practices to ensure that candidate lists reflect the diversity of our societies. In 2023, in cooperation with the Member States, it will define a guide to good electoral practices that addresses the participation of citizens with disabilities in the electoral process.

The third area refers to Dignity, Independence and Quality of LifeIn this context, the EC proposes developing independent living and strengthening community-based services through the following actions: in 2003 it will publish guidelines to recommend improvements in independent living and inclusion in the community to the Member States; in 2024 it will present a European quality framework for excellent social services for people with disabilities. The EC is calling on the Member States to apply good de-institutionalisation practices that promote and guarantee funding of accessible and disability-inclusive social housing. In order to develop new skills for new jobs, the EC will set targets for participation by adults with disabilities in learning activities to increase participation and ensure inclusive national skills strategies, including inclusive and accessible EFP programmes. Access to sustainable, quality jobs will be promoted through a package of measures to improve the outcomes of people with disabilities in the labour market[20]. In 2021 it will publish a report on the application of the EU Directive on equality in employment[21]  and publish an action plan for the social economy sector. In the same area of action, to consolidate social protection systems, in 2022 it will launch a study on social protection and services for people with disabilities, and will provide guidance to support Member States in new social protection reforms.

Regarding equal access and non-discrimination, the fourth area of intervention, the EC is committed to improving (i) access to justice, legal protection, freedom and security with a study on protection of vulnerable adults in cross-border situations, and a study on procedural guarantees for vulnerable adults in criminal proceedings. It will provide guidance to Member States on access to justice, promote the participation of persons with disabilities as professionals in the justice system and gather good practices on the decision-making process supported. For equal access to social protection, health care, education and goods and services, including housing, the EC calls on Member States to apply the principle of equal treatment beyond the field of employment and to support cooperation between the EU and the national frameworks of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the members of the European networks of defenders of rights[22]. Regarding inclusive and accessible education, in 2021, the EC will publish a set of tools for inclusion in early childhood education and care, support Member States to further develop teacher training systems for students with disabilities, and support increased efforts to implement the action plan for educational support and inclusive education[23]. The EC calls on Member States to support the creation of inclusive schools, to ensure that all levels of their education systems comply with the CRPD and to ensure the application of Article 24 of the CRPD in European schools.  For sustainable and equal access to healthcare, the EC will address health and disability issues through the Steering Group on Promotion and Prevention (SGPP) to share validated good practices related to health, help stakeholders to address and mitigate the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of European citizens, and address specific inequalities that affect people with disabilities in access to cancer prevention, early detection and treatment. The EC calls on Member States to improve access for people with disabilities within the portfolio of health services, based on inclusive, accessible and person-centric health care and free and informed consent; to provide information and develop support strategies for patients with disabilities related to rare diseases. To improve access to art and culture, recreational activities, leisure, sports and tourism, the EC will launch an evaluation study on the application of Article 30 of the CRPD, collaborate with the International Paralympic Committee to promote inclusion in sport and fight stereotypes, and will continue to promote the development of accessible tourism, through the European Capital of Smart Tourism award[24]. The EC calls on Member States to promote and encourage the artistic expression of people with disabilities and to make more museums and art exhibitions accessible to people with disabilities. To guarantee security and protection from violence and hate crimes, as well as for the protection of the rights of migrants with disabilities, and in inclusive emergency systems to address natural and human disasters, by 2024 the EC will provide guidance to Member States and operators, including police officers, on improving support for people with disabilities who are victims of violence, and invite the Fundamental Rights Agency to analyse the situation of persons with disabilities living in institutions in relation to violence, abuse and torture. The EC calls on Member States to apply the protection of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) taking into account the specific needs of vulnerable applicants and beneficiaries of international protection and to facilitate the training of protection personnel and interpreters who deal with asylum applications from vulnerable people.

To promote the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide, the fifth scope of application, the EC will strengthen its role as a global defender of the rights of persons with disabilities through cooperation, humanitarian action and dialogue with the international community of the Convention.  In 2021, the EC will update the set of tools for the rights-based approach, which includes all human rights for EU development cooperation; ensure that EU delegations play a more active role in supporting the implementation of the CRPD. It will make systematic use of the Disability Indicator of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC)[25] to track investments that include disability for specific control of EU funding, provide technical assistance, together with the Member States, to the administrations of associated countries through its programmes and structures, organise regular structured dialogues during the annual Conference of State Parties to the CRPD and in the context of other multilateral forums, and strengthen cooperation, focusing on accessibility and employment.

To ensure effective implementation of the strategy, the sixth area of intervention will promote the ‘Better regulation’ initiative, aimed at complying with the CRPD when developing policies to improve disability inclusion and in impact assessments and other rights of these citizens. To strengthen cooperation between EU institutions and the Member States, the EC invites all EU institutions and bodies, as well as bodies and delegations, to appoint disability coordinators for their respective institutions, as well as strategies in disability matters; organise regular high-level meetings between the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), with the participation of organisations representing people with disabilities, organises an annual exchange of views with the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. The EC invites Member States to take into account the specific needs of people with disabilities in all policies addressed in the Council and in its conclusions (mainstreaming disability). To collaborate with the Member States and regional and local authorities, within the framework of the FARO project, in 2021 the EU will establish the Disability Platform that will support the implementation of the European and national strategies on disability matters and will bring together the national focal points of the Convention, organisations of people with disabilities and the EC. The EC will also establish a dialogue on disability with existing networks[26] of local and regional authorities. The EC invites Member States to adopt ambitious national strategies to promote the implementation of the CRPD and this strategy at national, regional and local levels.

The EC then commits to supporting the implementation of the Strategy through EU funding, continuing to promote the use of EU funding by Member States (according to the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027[27]), and new funding opportunities under NextGenerationEU and the National Recovery and Resilience Plans[28]EU funding supports areas such as deinstitutionalisation, socio-economic inclusion of people with disabilities, access to inclusive services, education and healthcare, enhancing the inclusion of cultural heritage and ensuring accessibility. The EC will explore funding opportunities through the new Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) programme to promote the commitment of citizens with disabilities on equal terms with others, will support Member States in the use of EU funds in accordance with the CRPD. The EC urges Member States to ensure collaborate with regional and local authorities, and with organisations representing people with disabilities in the design and implementation of EU funds; encourages CRPD focal points to support the fulfilment of the relevant enabling conditions throughout the programming period.

The EC wants to set an example and, in the seventh policy area, invites other EU institutions and bodies to do the sameTo do this, it will design inclusive selection, hiring, employment and job maintenance processes from the disability point of view.

The EC will adopt a new human resources strategy that includes actions to promote diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities, ensure ongoing elimination and prevention of barriers to staff and the public with disabilities across all services, and will strengthen the management reports of all EC services on diversity, including reasonable accommodation for staff with disabilities. It will promote the accessibility of buildings and internal communication. In 2021, it will adopt an action plan on web accessibility[29]. By 2023, it will improve the accessibility of all its audiovisual and graphic communication services,; guarantee the accessibility of all new buildings occupied by the EC, guarantee the accessibility of places where EC events are held, and it will ensure that, by 2030, all EC buildings meet European accessibility standards.

Finally, the last chapter of the strategy deals with raising awareness, governance and measuring progress. The EC will start work with the Council to update the EU declaration on the competence of the Union in matters regulated by the Convention[30]. The number of relevant EU legal acts has increased significantly, from around 40 listed in the 2008 declaration to more than 130[31].

The EU monitoring system will be strengthened under the CRPDin 2022, it will review the functioning of the EU framework and propose actions based on this review; organise an annual dialogue between the EC as the focal point of the EU and the EU framework. In 2021, the EC will develop and publish a monitoring framework that covers the objectives and actions of this strategy. By 2023 it will develop new disability indicators (covering children and the situation of people with disabilities in terms of employment, education, social protection, poverty and social exclusion, living conditions, health and use of new communication technologies to support the indicators of the EU Social Scoreboard, the European Semester and the Sustainable Development Goals). In 2024, it will prepare a report on the strategy, develop a data collection strategy, guiding Member States accordingly, and will provide an analysis of existing data sources and indicators, including administrative data.

Over the next decade, the strategy will support both Member States and EU institutions in their efforts to implement the CRPD. The implementation of the initiatives envisaged in the strategy reduce discrimination and inequality and help people with disabilities to fully enjoy their human rights, fundamental freedoms and EU rights on an equal basis with others by 2030, to maximise their independence, participation and decent living conditions.

[1] Ver

[2] Ver

[3] Carta de los Derechos Fundamentales de los Ciudadanos Europeos (Niza 2000),

[4] Direttiva europea 78/2000,

[5] Ver .

[6] Declaración de Madrid,

[7] Véase el sitio web del Foro Europeo de la Discapacidad , donde se incluyen todas las estrategias políticas europeas de actuación en inglés y francés.

[8] Ver .

[9] Proclamación interinstitucional sobre el pilar europeo de derechos sociales (2017/C 428/09).

[10] Ver

[11] Comunicación de la Comisión al Consejo, al Parlamento Europeo, al Comité Económico y Social Europeo y al Comité de las Regiones. Igualdad de oportunidades para las personas con discapacidad: un plan de acción europeo, Bruselas, 30.10.2003, COM (2003) 650 final,

[12] Comunicación de la Comisión al Consejo, al Parlamento Europeo, al Comité Económico y Social Europeo y al Comité de las Regiones. Estrategia Europea sobre Discapacidad 2010-2020: un compromiso renovado para una Europa sin barreras Bruselas, 15.11.2010, COM (2010) 636 final, ,

[13] Sobre la base de los artículos 33 y 44 de la Convención de la ONU y del Código de Conducta de la UE, que identificaba las competencias europeas, las compartidas con los Estados y las que quedaban en poder de los Estados miembros.

[14] Naciones Unidas – Agenda 2030 para el Desarrollo Sostenible.

[15] Comunicación de la Comisión al Parlamento Europeo, al Consejo, al Comité Económico y Social Europeo y al Comité de las Regiones: Una Unión de la Igualdad: Estrategia sobre los derechos de las personas con discapacidad para 2021-2030

[16] La obligación de renovar un porcentaje de edificios públicos cada año se aplica actualmente sólo a las administraciones centrales, pero se ampliará a todos los niveles de la administración pública, incluida la Comisión.

[17] Comunicación de la Comisión (COM(2020) 789 final) – Estrategia de Movilidad Sostenible e Inteligente, párrafos 91 y 92, y anexo, acciones 63 y 64. Las evaluaciones de los Reglamentos sobre los derechos de los pasajeros aéreos para las personas con discapacidad y con movilidad reducida y sobre los derechos de los pasajeros de los transportes marítimos y de los autobuses (2021) están en curso y deberían concluirse en el primer semestre de 2021.

[18] Reglamento (UE) nº 1315/2013 sobre las orientaciones de la Unión para el desarrollo de la red transeuropea de transporte;

comunicación de la Comisión (COM (2020) 789 final) – Estrategia de movilidad sostenible e inteligente, punto 23 y anexo, acción 55.

[19] Reglamento de Ejecución (UE) 2019/772 de la Comisión.

[20] Además de las iniciativas mencionadas anteriormente, la CE pide a los Estados que aumenten la tasa de empleo de las personas con discapacidad, refuercen la capacidad de los servicios de empleo y faciliten el trabajo por cuenta propia y el espíritu empresarial, y desarrollen medidas para seguir subsanando las deficiencias de la protección social de las personas con discapacidad.

[21] El informe se presentará junto con el informe sobre la Directiva 2000/43/CE del Consejo, de 29 de junio de 2000, relativa a la aplicación del principio de igualdad de trato de las personas independientemente de su origen racial o étnico.

[22] Por ejemplo, la Red Europea de Instituciones Nacionales de Derechos Humanos (ENNHRI), la Red Europea de Organismos de Igualdad (Equinet) y la Red Europea de Defensores del Pueblo (ENO).

[23] Según lo aprobado por el Consejo de Gobernadores en su reunión de abril de 2019 en Atenas.

[24] Capital Europea del Turismo Inteligente para la sostenibilidad, la accesibilidad, la digitalización, el patrimonio cultural y la creatividad.

[25] OCDE, 2019 – Manual para el marcador de la inclusión y el empoderamiento de las personas con discapacidad.

[26] Por ejemplo Eurocities o el Consejo de Municipios y Regiones de Europa – CMRE.

[27] Reglamento (CE) 2020/2093 del Consejo por el que se establece el marco financiero plurianual para el período 2021-2027.

[28] Los Estados miembros tendrán que cumplir las llamadas «condiciones de habilitación» para garantizar que el entorno de inversión esté bien preparado, desde el principio, para el apoyo de la UE, y entre las condiciones de habilitación está la existencia de un marco nacional que garantice la aplicación de la CDPD.

[29] La Oficina Europea de Selección de Personal (EPSO) seguirá mejorando la accesibilidad de sus pruebas y su sitio web para cumplir con la directrices de accesibilidad al contenido de la web.

[30] Comité de las Naciones Unidas, 2015 – Observaciones finales sobre el informe inicial de la Unión Europea.

[31] Comisión (SWD (2017) 29 final) – Informe de situación sobre la aplicación de la Estrategia Europea de Discapacidad (2010-2020).

Pais: European Union Region
ODS: Reduced inequalities, Peace, justice and strong institutions
Área de Políticas: Social policies
Tipo: Article