According to UN statistics, young people with disabilities are among the poorest and most marginalised of the world’s youth. Many of these young people are excluded from their communities in institutional care. They do not experience the same independence or the choice and control over the decisions we make about how we live our lives, something which almost all of us take for granted.

This year, European Independent Living Day is dedicated to young disabled people, a pertinent theme during the EU’s European Year of Youth that will hopefully cast a spotlight on this stark reality and highlight the importance of ensuring their autonomy and independence – an issue central to the work of the European Social Network (ESN) and many of our members.

Challenges to implementation

Progress has been made at the legislative level to promote independent living for people with disabilities in the form of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which guarantees a right to independent living for disabled people. However, as ESN’s report on Independent Living has shown, there is a serious gap in European countries between the adoption of independent living legislation and its implementation, especially in rural areas.

The role of social services

Social services play a crucial role in promoting independent living. Service users and professionals can work with politicians to help shift political attitudes and priorities towards independent living. It is important for politicians to understand the meaning of choice and control and to turn around the narrative which regards access to choice as only a financial burden. In addition, social services in local and regional authorities can make people aware of the service options and their rights and support them to get to the point where they are empowered to make their own choices.

Examples from ESN members

ESN members, managers of public social services, are responsible for services for people with disabilities at local level across Europe. To varying degrees, depending on legislation and funding, these services support independent living.

The Agency for Social Protection (DOST) in Azerbaijan has set up a Volunteering Programme that provides opportunities to people with disabilities to train with and be hired by the national social protection services. In this way, DOST fosters integration into the community as well as the labour market for people with disabilities.

Another example is Aġenzija Sapport that provides personalised support for people with disabilities in Malta through Individualised Care Plans. These plans take into account additional social problems beyond disability like domestic violence, unemployment, mental health issues or homelessness are taken into account. The objective of the programme is to help beneficiaries become active participants in the community while promoting their autonomy by learning new skills.

Barcelona County Council offers a 24/7 local telecare service to people with disabilities. On the one hand, the service attends emergency situations through their inter-administrative collaboration and coordination with community-based services such as civil protection, police, firefighters and health services. On the other, from a preventive point of view, it provides home visits, personalised proactive and follow-up calls.

ESN's work on disability

ESN is part of the European Platform on Disability that brings together all EU Member States, civil society organisations and the European institutions to work together to ensure  that persons with disabilities can fully enjoy their rights in line with the UN CRPD. As part of this Platform, ESN will continue to promote quality and models of person-centred care in the implementation of Union legislation, programmes and policies in the field of disability, and the upcoming European Care Strategy.