Activities of the European Commission

European Strategy for Disability 2010 – 2020:
A renewed commitment for a Barrier-free Europe

On 15 November 2010 the European Commission adopted a new strategy to break down the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis.

Most people take it for granted that they can hop on a bus to go shopping, visit friends, to see a play or a sports game. Surfing the Internet or enjoying a TV show are taken for granted, as is the right to vote in elections. But for the 80 million Europeans with a disability, there may be major obstacles that put these activities out of reach.

The European Union and its member States have a strong mandate to improve the social and economic situation of persons with disabilities. Therefore, the European Commission adopted a new strategy for breaking the barriers that limit persons with disabilities to participate in the society on equal basis with others.

This strategy provides framework for action on European level, as well as with national action to address the diverse situation of men, women and children with disabilities. The overall aim of this Strategy is to empower people with disabilities so that they can enjoy their full rights, and benefit fully from participating in society and in the European economy, notably through the Single market. Achieving this and ensuring effective implementation of the UN Convention across the EU calls for consistency. This Strategy identifies actions at EU level to supplement national ones, and it determines the mechanisms needed to implement the UN Convention at EU level, including inside the EU institutions. It also identifies the support needed for funding, research, awareness-raising, statistics and data collection.

The Commission has identified eight main areas for action: Accessibility, Participation, Equality, Employment, Education and training, Social protection, Health, and External Action. For each area, key actions are identified, with the overarching EU-level objective highlighted. These areas were selected on the basis of their potential to contribute to the overall objectives of the Strategy and of the UN Convention, the related policy documents from EU institutions and the Council of Europe, as well as the results of the EU Disability Action Plan 2003-2010, and a consultation of the Member States, stakeholders and the general public. The Strategy offers a review of how EU and the national governments can empower persons with disabilities so that they can enjoy their rights.


Accessibility is essential for participation in society. Accordingly, the EU Disability Strategy aims to eliminate barriers to access facing people with disabilities. Key areas for action include the built environment, transport, information and communication, and services.

The EU uses instruments such as research, policy and legislation, and standardization to ensure provision of accessible products and services across the Union. Furthermore, it takes steps to improve the functioning of the assistive technology market so as to ensure that it works to the advantage of the disabled. The European Commission promotes a “Design for all” approach in order to benefit as wide a scope of the population as possible. It is also working towards a European Accessibility Act setting out a general framework for goods and services.


People with disabilities and their families should be able to participate on an equal basis with others in all aspects of social and economic life. They need to be able to exercise their rights as citizens, including the right to free movement, to choose where and how they live, and to full access to cultural, leisure and sport activities.
The Commission works to eliminate obstacles that people with disabilities face in everyday life as individuals, consumers, students, and economic and social actors. Examples of this work include: promotion of the European disability parking card; supporting the transition in Member States from institutional to community-based care; and promoting participation in sport such as through organisation of disability-specific sporting events.


53% of Europeans consider discrimination on grounds of disability or age to be widespread in the EU. The EU promotes equal treatment of people with disabilities through a two-pronged approach comprising anti-discrimination legislation and strategies, and promotion of equal opportunities in other policies. The EU also pays close attention to the impact on people with disabilities of discrimination on grounds such as age, gender and sexual orientation.
The Commission ensures full implementation of the EU Directive banning discrimination in the job market on the grounds of disability. It also promotes diversity and combats discrimination through awareness-raising at EU and national level, and supports the work of NGOs in the area.
The Commission also made a proposal for another Directive dealing with equal treatment but this time outside of the area of employment, covering access to goods and services.


Quality jobs ensure economic independence, foster personal development and offer the best protection against poverty.

The Commission seeks to improve the employment situation of people with disabilities. It pays special attention to difficulties of young disabled. Working conditions and career advancement are taken into account, in consultation with social partners.

Other measures include making workplaces more accessible, supporting on-the-job training and increasing access to the open labour market for disabled people in sheltered employment.

As many people with disabilities need assistance, there is a growing need for carers and service providers.

Member States set their own employment policies in line with European guidelines. The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth has set a target of a 75% employment rate in Europe. To reach this, labour market inclusion of people with disabilities must be increased and this will also help to achieve the aim of lifting 20 million Europeans out of poverty by 2020.


The EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 emphasises equal access to quality education and lifelong learning. These are key factors in enabling the disabled to participate fully in society and improve their quality of life. However, this has not yet been achieved and much segregation remains in European education.
The EU respects national responsibility for content and organisation of education. At the same time, it supports national efforts to promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for pupils and students with disabilities. It also promotes their mobility across the EU via the Lifelong Learning Programme.

Social protection and inclusion

People with disabilities need to be able to benefit from services such as social protection, poverty reduction programmes, disability-related assistance and public housing. Member States are mainly responsible for these matters but fix common objectives and indicators through a framework called the Open Method of Coordination.

National efforts are assessed by the Commission and Council in a joint report, which outlines achievements of EU-level initiatives in individual countries. The Commission also helps EU candidate and applicant countries to reform their social welfare systems. Joint Inclusion Memoranda are drawn up to set out priorities.

The EU supports national measures to ensure high quality, sustainable social protection for people with disabilities, notably by facilitating policy exchange. Furthermore, it promotes design and implementation of social innovation programmes.


People with disabilities need equal access to high-quality, gender-sensitive healthcare, including preventative care, rehabilitation and other specific services.
Member States are primarily responsible for organising and delivering health services. The Commission supports policies to improve access to mainstream care and specific services for people with disabilities. It also promotes health and safety at work so as to reduce the risk of disabilities arising due to accidents in the workplace and to help people with disabilities to return to the job market.

External action

The EU and its Member States promote the rights of people with disabilities in their external policies, including enlargement and international development.
The EU highlights the status of disability as a human rights issue by raising awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as part of its humanitarian aid activity. It will continue to promote disability issues in international bodies such as the UN, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Commission also oversees progress by candidate and potential candidate countries in promoting rights of people with disabilities and uses pre-accession financial assistance instruments to this end.

The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 provides a framework for concerted EU and national-level action to improve the situation of people with disabilities. It aims to:

  • make goods and services accessible and promote assistive devices;
  • ensure that people with disabilities enjoy full benefits of EU citizenship;
  • promote provision of high-quality community-based services;
  • combat disability-based discrimination;
  • enable many more people with disabilities to access the open labour market;
  • promote inclusive education and life-long learning for pupils and students with disabilities;
  • combat poverty and social exclusion by ensuring decent living conditions;
  • promote equal access to health and related services;
  • promote the rights of people with disabilities through EU enlargement and international development programes;
  • raise awareness of disability issues and make people with disabilities more aware of their rights and how to use them;
  • improve use of EU accessibility and anti-discrimination funding instruments.

This Strategy is intended to harness the combined potential of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and the UN Convention, and to make full use of Europe 2020 and its instruments. It sets in motion a process to empower people with disabilities, so that they can participate fully in society on an equal basis with others. As Europe’s population ages, these actions will have a tangible impact on the quality of life of an increasingly large proportion of its people. The EU institutions and the Member States are called upon to work together under this Strategy to build a barrier-free Europe for all.

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