ETUCE Statement on the European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with disabilities

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On 3 March 2021, the European Commission put forward the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2021-2030) . The new policy plan reviews the previous European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, following a process of public consultation to which ETUCE contributed. The new strategy is linked to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Strategy sets goals and actions to be implemented within the next 10 years. Among the priority areas, the Strategy includes “Equal access to education”.  

The ETUCE Bureau meeting on 7 June 2021 adopted the position on the European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with disabilities. ETUCE welcomes that the EU Commission’s Strategy acknowledges the urgency to put the inclusion of persons with disabilities in education as a priority on the political agenda. The inclusion of education personnel and students with disabilities and special needs in education remains far from being a reality. The COVID-19 crisis has inflicted a hard backstep to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in education, exacerbating existing challenges and creating new ones. Therefore, ETUCE calls on the EU Commission and Member States to increase efforts to closely monitor and assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on inclusive education. It is also crucial to include in the EU Disability Strategy implementation, a plan to address the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities and special needs.  To do so, effective measures and sustainable public funding are necessary.

ETUCE member organisations call on the European Commission to require that member states promote inclusive education as one of the key goals of their national plans within the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This goes hand in hand with the need to develop inclusive schools, through the renovation of infrastructures and equipment with up-to-date technologies (including digital technologies) for inclusive education. 

Indeed, targeted and focused legislation is fundamental to ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in education. ETUCE urges the EU institutions, the Member States and Education Authorities to remove any physical and legal barriers that could block equal access to learning and teaching environments for teachers and students with disabilities and special needs.

ETUCE emphasises that inclusive education cannot be implemented with a top-down approach and that it requires meaningful social dialogue at all levels, as well as regular consultations with education trade unions. It is of utmost importance to support teachers’ high-quality initial education and continuous professional development. Current challenges such as the disproportioned size of classes, the lack of support personnel and special needs teachers are detrimental for inclusive education. Therefore, the implementation of the Strategy requires targeted measures to address the specific requirements of students with disability and special needs, support teachers with multidisciplinary teams of specialised professionals such as psychologists and social and health professionals. The implementation of the EU Strategy should ensure the provision of special needs education staff and of support personnel in every education institution and include legal provisions regarding class/group sizes.

ETUCE member organisations also highlight the importance of digital technologies and ICT to enhance the inclusion of education personnel and students with disabilities and special needs and, calls on the European Commission to create closer integration between the Strategy and the European Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) to address the challenges of digitalisation and support inclusive education through digital technologies and media literacy.

The ETUCE Statement on the European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with disabilities can be found here