Europeans recognise importance and aims of european year of people with disabilities

The European Year of People with Disabilities (EYPD) in 2003 was recognised and understood by a good percentage of EU citizens and served as a valuable awareness raising campaign, according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out for the European Commission. The survey also highlighted that the public has increased awareness and concern for people with disabilities, when compared to a survey carried out in 2000.

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‘The European Year of People with Disabilities (2003) was the beginning of a new dynamic process improving opportunities for all people with disabilities,’ says Margot Wallström, acting European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. ‘The exceptional mobilisation of stakeholders during the Year, including people with disabilities and their families, demonstrated a broad desire to move towards concrete social, economical, political and cultural participation of people with disabilities and the full achievement of equal opportunities.’

A third of Europeans were aware of the campaign by September 2003, the survey revealed. Particularly encouraging was that the objectives of the EYPD, to raise awareness and understanding of people with disabilities, were largely understood. Some 42% of interviewees believed that the campaign was to promote the rights of people with disabilities. An erroneous view that it was about fundraising was only held by 25% of those surveyed, while 21% thought it was designed to portray people with disabilities in a more positive light.

The main form of conveying the EYPD message was through the media, which was cited by 81% of interviewees as their source of information on the EYPD – demonstrating the media’s increased awareness of disabled people’s situation. This was especially important as media coverage in 2003 was restricted by the many other newsworthy events during the year.

Some 61% of EU citizens felt that the EYPD had contributed to informing people about difficulties faced by people with disabilities in their everyday life, whilst just over half (51%) felt that it had paved the way towards people with disabilities receiving the same rights as others.

The survey results showed that differences in awareness and attitude towards disability were more likely to be on a country by country basis, rather than on the basis of other factors such as age, gender or occupation. The countries which showed the greatest awareness of the EYPD were Ireland, Luxembourg and Austria. Ireland had the highest level of awareness, at 73% of interviewees; this is likely to be linked to the fact that the Special Olympics were held in Ireland last year.

As well as giving feedback on the success of the EYPD, the survey also highlighted that the public has increased awareness and concern for people with disabilities, when compared to a survey carried out in 2000.

The European Commission will continue in its drive to increase awareness of disability. It feels it is crucial to transform the momentum triggered by the EYPD into a sustainable process of change in designing policies bringing about broad and lasting improvements. As part of this aim, the Commission adopted a Communication on 30 October 2003 setting out a framework for the immediate policy follow-up to the European Year

The Communication also sets out an Action Plan with the time horizon of 2010 whose goal is to mainstream disability issues into all relevant Community policies and develop concrete actions in crucial areas to enhance the full participation of people with disability into society.

The European Year provided added incentives for EU Member States to look at new policy and legal developments towards achieving equal opportunities for people with disabilities. These include more pro-active measures for people with disabilities while laying foundations on which future long-term action can be built. For example, some Member States, such as Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece and Sweden have put in place action plans on disability. Others, such as France, Ireland, the UK, Belgium and Portugal have reviewed their laws related to disability or are preparing new ones.

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