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2024 marks the fourth year of the EU disability strategy for 2030. With the end of its political mandate approaching this year, the European Commission is busy delivering on the strategy’s flagship initiatives, namely the EU disability card, guidance on independent living and a framework for social services of excellence for persons with disabilities.

On 18 and 19 March representatives of national ministries, the Commission, the Belgian EU Council presidency and 3rd sector met to take stock of stock of current achievements and future actions to implement the strategy.

Recognition of disability status across the EU – Is the EU disability card a first step?

EU national governments and the European Parliament reached a political agreement on the EU disability card – one of the key initiatives announced at the start of the Disability Strategy in 2021. The card will ensure equal access to special conditions and preferential treatment for people with disabilities during short-term stays in other EU countries; for example, when using public transport or attending cultural events and museums in other member states.

People with disabilities moving permanently or for a longer period to another EU Member State, will still undergo disability assessment according to national criteria. The European Disability Forum, representing people with disabilities, welcomed the card, explaining that it will make travelling easier by recognising the disability status from the moment someone arrives in another country. 

At a conference on future actions to be taken under the Disability Strategy, organised by the Belgian EU council Presidency on 19 March, Justina Jakstiene, Lithuanian Vice-minister of Social Security and Labour hinted at what could come next: “A next step in the Disability Strategy could be jointly agreed principles of disability assessment. When Ukrainian refugees with disabilities came to Lithuania in 2022, we equated the Ukrainian assessment system, giving them easier access to adequate medical support and aids such as wheelchairs.” 

In order for such common principles to work, Ms Jakstiene emphasised the need to recognise the role of social services when determining disability status. This is already the case in Lithuania, where the disability assessment system was recently reformed to move away from a purely medical one.

Maximising Disability Support in EU Funding

At the same conference MEP Dragos PÎSLARU (Romania) called EU Member States and the future Parliament to uphold the Disability Strategy’s goals such as deinstitutionalisation during the negotiations of the new European Financial Framework 2028-2034. “We need to invest in disability services,” Mr PISLARU said, “but our experience with the negotiations on Recovery and Resilience Funds in 2021 shows that investment is still understood as investment in bricks and mortar. EU funds need to invest in social services, who reach out and support children and families in their communities.”

Katarina Ivankovic-Knezevic, European Commission’s Social Policy Director, seconded those proposals: “EU Member States should link EU funded infrastructure investments with investments in social services and workforce development: Kindergardens need well skilled specialists such as logopaedists and rehabilitators to support children with disabilities.”

Supporting independent living across the EU

The European Commission also wants to launch an EU Guidance on Independent Living and has held workshops to gather various views. 

ESN members from Castilla y Leon (Spain) and Agenzia Sapport (Malta) presented inspiring practices on home care in rural areas and independent living support. 

Excellence in Social Services for People with Disabilities

The European Commission has also confirmed its ambition to deliver a framework for social services of excellence of people with disabilities. At the European Social Network, we have requested the Commission to revamp the 2010 European social services quality framework to ensure it is up to date with current trends, principles and standards and consistent with other frameworks covering specific services like disability.