AUGUST 2001

AUGUST 2001 - Stefan Trömel, the Director of the European Disability Forum, was invited by ELSA to give an opening address at the World Congress of People who Stutter...

SEPTEMBER 2001

Stefan Trömel, the Director of the European Disability Forum, was invited by ELSA to give an opening address at the World Congress for People who Stutter in Ghent, Belgium.

The speech was transcribed by Edwin Farr from a video taken by the Belgian Stuttering Association.

SPEECH

August 10th 2001

Stefan Trömel, the Director of the European Disability Forum, was invited by ELSA to give an opening address at the World Congress PWS - here is Stefan's speech:

Many thanks for this invitation to the EDF.

I am the Director of the European Disability Forum. Let me explain very briefly what the EDF is. I am sure that most of you will not know this organisation. The EDF is an umbrella organisation of disability organisations that are operating in the European Union. Our member organisations are National Councils, that is National Disability Councils from each of the 15 European Union countries and also Iceland and Norway. We are now opening up also to the accession countries, those countries, as you know, that are in the process of becoming members of the European Union. This is the first group of members of the EDF, one organisation from each of the countries bringing together different disability groups from these countries. The second group that are members of the EDF are European disability organisations that are specialised by a type of impairment, for example, the European Blind Union, European Union of the Deaf and the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA), for instance about 60 different European organisations. So if you bring all those groups together you can see that the EDF is quite an interesting platform, a representative platform of disabled people in the European Union and this is acknowledged by the different European Union institutions and by other social organisations.

The EDF is an organisation of disabled people. The Executive Committee is composed exclusively of disabled people and so is the Board of Directors. The EDF still also includes organisations that are service providers, professionals and other organisations and individuals that work in the field of disability. But it is an organisation that is controlled and governed by disabled people, disabled people and parents of disabled people unable to represent themselves, for instance people with autism or severe learning disabilities.

The EDF was created out of the belief in the right of disabled people to be part of the policy making that affects them. We all know Rule 18 of the UN Standard Rules, "the right of disabled people through their representative organisations to be part of the policy making process". And that means at European Union level the EDF. The EDF is an organisation that defends the human rights of disabled people, the civil, political, economic and social rights of disabled people. To do that we work in all those areas, sectors, that have an impact on the lives of disabled people; transport, information society, education, employment, development co-operation, enlargement of the European Union and others. Our role is to ensure that the different initiatives of the European Union take into account the interests and rights of disabled people.

You will agree with me that disabled people are a diverse group of people, people with very different impairments have very different problems, but they have many things also in common, the problems they face being part of society. The EDF is a symbol of the fact that unity makes strength, a unity that is based on solidarity between the different impairment groups. The EDF works on horizontal issues, on issues that are common to several or all disabled people. But of course we need the input of specialised organisations, like the European League of Stuttering Associations. Since 1999 disabled people are visible in the European Union. Why is this so? it is so because in 1999 the new European Union Treaty makes specific reference to disabled people. It makes that in an Article that allows the European Union to combat discrimination that is faced by disabled people. I know that among you there are people from Canada, from the USA, from other countries, where you have non-discrimination legislation that protects disabled people. Well you must know that in the European Union that is not the case in most of the countries. Only the UK is a country within the European Union that has comprehensive non-discrimination legislation. Now we have since 1999, only two years ago, a legal basis in the European Union that could be used to bring forward comprehensive non-discrimination legislation and that is currently our main objective.

This new article, Article 13, the non-discrimination article has allowed that, at the end of last year for a new employment directive. A piece of European Union legislation was launched, was adopted, and was approved. It implies that all fifteen members of the European Union need to implement this legislation at national level. That is the first time that the European Union has come up with rights for disabled people. Let me give you an example of what this legislation means. It combats discrimination in the field of employment, direct and indirect discrimination. It foresees that the lack of provision of reasonable accommodation is a way of discrimination. Now many of you will be unaware of the notion of reasonable discrimination. Those of you who live in a country where you have comprehensive non-discrimination are probably much more familiar with that. What does it mean? It means that an employer needs to adapt its working premises and its working practices to allow disabled people to perform like other employees. Of course reasonable accommodation means very different things for very different groups of disabled people. It means a ramp for people going into a building with a wheelchair, information on alternative media for blind people, sign language interpretation for deaf people, it could mean extra time at an interview for people who stutter. So we need the input from expert organisations like yourselves to know what discrimination means for each of the groups. To know what reasonable accommodation means for each of the groups and therefore the role of the European League of Stuttering Associations as a member of the EDF is a vital role.

At our AGA, just a month ago in Brussels, the European League of Stuttering Associations was represented by two delegates. It was also appointed as one of the members of the Governing Council of the European Disability Forum which is the governing body that sets the policies of the organisation. You should be aware that people who stutter are well represented in the EDF.

Let me finish with one information, the EDF back in 1999 proposed to the European Union to declare 2003 the European Year of Disabled People. This proposal is now becoming a reality and before the end of this year under the current Belgian Presidency, the European Union will declare 2003 the European Year of People with Disabilities.

You are well aware that disability is very much related to raising awareness, to make invisible. Then of course we have the European Year, a full year, devoted to disability as a unique opportunity to raise awareness of disability, as a general issue and a horizontal issue for all specific impairment groups. I mentioned 2003 as a year to make people visible, to raise awareness, to inform, to teach, but it is also a year when we would like to see new steps taken, new policies being adopted, that would remain after the year. A new comprehensive non-discrimination legislation based on this Article 13 is the main objective we would like to see being adopted in that year. Legislation that combats discrimination in the field of education, access to transport, access to restaurants etc. The European Year is based on building partnerships, on involving organisations that are normally not so close to the disability movement, media for instance.

We all know how important the role of media is in changing attitudes of society. It is an excellent opportunity to approach the media and say "what are you going to do in 2003 to contribute to the European Year". But, of course, it is also for all disability organisations to contribute to the year. It is clear that the success of the European Year is based on all our work. I was reading before coming up here, the newsletter of the ELSA, the Voice of ELSA, and I became aware, and I wasn't I must admit, that October 22 is the International Stuttering Awareness Day. So, a question to you, my challenge to you is, think what you will do on 22 October 2003, this special occasion in that year.

Thank you very much I wish you all the best success.

(Transcribed by Edwin J. Farr from a video taken by the Belgian Stuttering Association)

The International Stuttering Association
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