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European Disability Card

Background

Free movement of persons is one of the basic rights guaranteed by the European Union to all its citizens. Still, people with disabilities are often prevented from travelling freely by the lack of recognition of their disability status, and by their inability to access services they would normally be entitled to in their home countries. Though much has been done to encourage their free movement in the single Member States (they may get financial support for public transport, discounts on tickets or even free travel), legislations on the matter differ greatly from State to State. Worse still, there is currently no mutual recognition of disability status between EU Member States: their national disability card may not be recognized in other countries.

It is to tackle this very thorny issue that the European Commission launched a Project Working Group in 2013, with Member States interested in the matter. A pilot project was launched with a call for proposals in 2015 and the eight selected countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Romania, Slovenia) were awarded a grant by the Commission and are now working together to implement the card. The Project Working Group currently consists of 17 Member States and civil society organizations, and it is a sub-section of the High Level Group on Disability. The Commission will support the project for 18 months, that is, until August 2017.

How does the Card work?

The European Disability Card, previously known as Mobility Card, is a system of mutual recognition of existing national disability cards, applied by EU countries on a voluntary basis. The card will ensure that all disabled EU citizens have equal access to specific benefits and discounts, mainly in the areas of culture, leisure, sport and transport, under the same conditions as the disabled people residing in that country.

The card will have the same design in all the countries adopting it, with the EU colours. It will be blue like the Health Card, but with the addition of a Braille sign.

Eligibility

The Card does not change national eligibility criteria or rules: it's competence of the Member States to decide who is eligible to receive the Card, using the national definition of disability, and to determine the issuing procedure. It's also the Member States which determine how many benefits they want to put in the exchange; it is hoped that, when they see that the Card is yielding good results, they will add new benefits to the portfolio.

Expectations

On the individual level, it is hoped that persons with disability will get more opportunities in their everyday life; their social and occupational integration in the community will hopefully increase and they will be equipped with a powerful tool to exercise their rights. On the local level, regional inequalities will be reduced, and service providers will get a tool to implement the UN CRPD and article 9. Finally, on the national level, the Card will advance UN CRPD and raise awareness on the issue. The Project Working Group hopes to make a real change in the way disabled citizens travel across the Union.

Do disabled people welcome the idea?

So far, the pilot project has received a warm reception by the disabled people residing in the 8 participating countries. Here are some of their positive comments, reported by Petra Tiihonen, manager of the project, at the 10th anniversary of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UN CRPD):

"I often have to explain that I really do have a disability, because it's not visible".

"I could prove that I need a seat in the front, because I can't see from anywhere else".

"Often when using services people think that I'm drunk... it's humiliating! It would be easier to just show the card".

"I would feel safer, as I would have something to make my special needs visible".

"When travelling abroad, it would help communicating and using services".

"It would be really helpful when using public transportation: I could prove that the accompanying person is my personal assistant and I wouldn't have to pay for two".

The personal assistant issue proved to be particularly challenging: it is hard to prove that the person accompanying the disabled is really a personal assistant, and it happens very often that the latter has to pay for two. The Card will certainly make things easier, especially if a sign with the letter "A" is added on the card of those disabled people eligible for personal assistance. The introduction of such a sign has been discussed by the Project Working Group and will be most likely put in place.

State of play

The Card is currently being implemented in Finland, and Petra Tiihonen hopes that the system will be in place by the end of 2016. The Working Project Group is now finalizing the card elegibility, sending surveys to the participating countries to determine which criteria they'd like to use. They will then engage service providers in the fields of leisure, transport etc. for the issueing of the Card. Moreover, an accessible website has been set up with all the relevant information, and awareness-raising campaigns are being organized across the participating countries.