Secretary General statement on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Strasbourg , 

A quadruple amputee swimming across the English Channel; a 20 year old social entrepreneur living with Asperger’s Syndrome, Founder and CEO of an organisation working to build a society where every person with autism can “live and succeed as they are”; an expert, trainer and lecturer with a hearing impairment who dedicates his life and energy to working for deaf and sign language rights; a disability activist and self-advocate with cerebral palsy who all her young life has been campaigning for equality for people with disabilities, most particularly in education; a wheelchair user who advocates for the protection and promotion of human rights of persons with disabilities and makes sure that laws and policies become a reality.

What do they all have in common?

The determination, strong will and power to turn their disability into ability and be fully-fledged citizens of our societies. They have challenged all of the barriers and stereotypes so as to enjoy their human rights and strive for others to do the same.

Today, as we observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Council of Europe is determined to work with and for persons with disabilities to help ensure that their human rights and dignity are upheld.

Much progress has been achieved in the past 10 years, not least due to a series of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights as well as other Council of Europe initiatives which have helped shift the emphasis away from a medical approach to a rights-based approach to disability.

From changes in legislation to better service delivery, from improvements in physical environments to changes in attitudes, Europe has become a better place to be for persons with disabilities.

However, many challenges still remain. From barriers to participation to discrimination, from stigmatisation and stereotyping to inaccessible environments, from the situation of children with disabilities in schools to access to civil and political rights, Europe has a lot to do to bridge the gap between legal standards and the daily reality of persons with disabilities.

Moving forward, we at the Council of Europe will continue to strive for the full and effective implementation of the commitments entered into by member States, notably the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and various Council of Europe standards. We will continue to work with and for persons with disabilities, with our member States and with other international organisations to make the rights of persons with disabilities a reality in their everyday life; to remove barriers and challenge stereotypes; to change attitudes and mind-sets.

We must put human rights first in our concerted efforts to deal with disability. There are numerous examples to inspire us.