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According to an EESC study disability discrimination in Europe averages 15%, but in Portugal this figure stands much higher at 65%. As a result, the PSG DIS carried out a fact-finding visit to Lisbon, Portugal on 19-21 March 2018 to gather information about the situation for people with disabilities in the wake of the economic crisis and subsequent austerity measures.

Education: A cornerstone for combating disability discrimination

Following the fact-finding visit the EESC concluded that combating discrimination begins with an inclusive education system. Portugal does well on this measure. Inclusion of students with disabilities within the wider education system stands at 99%. Of the 99% in attendance, 86% receive a mainstream education. However, the PSG DIS found that the school system sometimes struggles to provide students with disabilities with the additional support services they may need, such as therapy sessions. Therapeutic support for students with disabilities was reduced by half in 2015-2016 and is continuing to be cut. EESC also highlighted that attention must be devoted to addressing the gender gap among students. Girls with disabilities receive less support than boys and are also less present in schools.

Employment: A key area for tackling poverty and exclusion among people with disabilities

The EESC also highlighted in their article that just 0.5% of the private-sector workforce in Portugal and 2.3% of the public-sector workforce is made up of people with disabilities, despite targeted objectives by the Portuguese government of 2% and 5% respectively. Lack of participation in the workplace can put people with disabilities at high risk of poverty and social exclusion. On top of this, unemployment figures for the Portuguese population have been declining steadily since 2013 and in December 2017 general unemployment was below 8%. Over the same period unemployment actually increased for people with disabilities and now stands at around 25%.

The European Social Network (ESN) recently published a report titled Towards more independent lives for people with disabilities which addresses some of the themes raised by the PSG DIS fact-finding mission to Lisbon. An example of this is the first chapter of the report which is about active inclusion measures to improve the employment rate of people with disabilities. The chapter provides a review of strategies from several European countries that aim to increase the participation of people with disabilities in the labour market and a detailed local case study from the Netherlands. Through sharing examples of best practice, ESN hopes to help countries in Europe to increase independence and autonomy of people with disabilities.

Government action: An essential aspect of promoting full inclusion for disabled citizens

Since 2016, the newly-elected Portuguese government has introduced two important advances to improve the situation of people with disabilities. As the European Commission highlighted in their European Semester report for Portugal this year, these are a new social inclusion benefit and a scheme to support independence for people with disabilities by aiming to help them access employment. The government hopes these policies will help to move away from institutionalisation and towards empowering individuals, which is also something that ESN advocates strongly for in its work.

However, access to these benefits requires a minimum of 60% incapacity which the EESC argue is assessed based on a “contentious table of established physical disabilities” which discriminate against intellectual disabilities. Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum, argues that the benefits assessment should be based on needs, not on the level of disabilities a person has. On top of this, funding remains a chronic issue for new initiatives in Portugal. The EESC argue that the Portuguese Government are dependent on NGOs carrying out crucial work on a voluntary basis or with very limited funds. The PSG DIS concluded in its article that there is a desperate need for additional funding for the organisations that implement community-led initiatives to improve the situation for people with disabilities.


The circumstances of people with disabilities in Portugal needs attention on a number of levels. Although the proportion of people with disabilities in education is good, representation is lacking in other fields such as employment where targets are not being met. ESN will continue to try and improve the situation for people with disabilities through actions like promoting the deinstitutionalisation of care in the EU to ensure greater independence for people with disabilities. The Portuguese government has brought in some measures to improve the situation, but as highlighted, some groups criticise the assessment procedure for the new initiatives. Finally, a lack of funding was also cited by PSG DIS as limiting the government’s ability to act to tackle disability discrimination.