A new national Action Plan for Disability, covering the period 2017-2020, is being drafted, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou has said.
In an interview with Cyprus News Agency, ahead of a high level meeting taking place on Monday, in Nicosia, to launch the Council of Europe’s Disability Strategy 2017-2023, Emilianidou noted that the financial crisis had little impact on social benefits received by people with disabilities. It has, however, affected additional measures that have would benefited this group of people, she said.
With the right policies, perceptions of people with disabilities are changing and they are deemed as equal members of society, Emilianidou said, noting that these issues “are high in the priorities of the ministry and the government”.
According to Emilianidou, the new Council of Europe (CoE) Strategy on Disability aims to commit everybody to take more action in securing the rights and fundamental freedoms of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.
The conference, launching the new Strategy, on March 27 and 28, is being hosted in the framework of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The minister added that the Strategy, titled “Human Rights: A reality for all” aims to foster the notion that the rights of people with disabilities are human rights.
She says that it places emphasis on issues of equality, dignity and opportunity, safeguarding those peoples’ independence, freedom of choice and active participation in social life.
It also gives priority to matters such as equality before the law and protection from exploitation, violence and abuse and according to Emilianidou, it is based on the principles of universal design, cooperation and coordination at national and international level.
Nicosia had also a role to play in shaping the new Strategy, the minister added. In particular, she said, the Director of the Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities participated in the sessions of the relevant CoE expert Committee that formulated the Strategy, in consultation with other stakeholders.
Asked if the previous CoE action plan, covering the period between 2006 and 2015, brought results, Emiliaidou said it provided impetus for the 47 member states to proceed with their own action plans and implement additional measures for the disabled.
She added that Cyprus drew up its first National Action Plan for Disability in July 2013, in the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it ratified in 2011, while taking also into consideration CoE and EU action plans. The new National Action Plan for 2017-2020 is now under preparation, the minister said.
“Action Plans turn strategies and international conventions into deeds and provide a concrete, systematic, creative and participatory way on how to plan, coordinate and realize our actions, in order to achieve our intended aim” she added.
On another question regarding changes in people’s perceptions, the minister said that through the right policies, programmes and actions, people with disabilities are supported and empowered to actively participate in all aspects of life as equal citizens.
“The presence of children and people with disabilities in education, the workplace, culture, entertainment, sports and society in general, as well as their practical contribution and utilization of their skills leads to a shift in perceptions regarding disability” said Emilianidou.
She also cited a series of actions that are being promoted by several ministries for integrating people with disabilities in education and employment, giving incentives to employers to hire them and improving care services and accessibility.
EU Disability Card
Travelling within the EU will become easier in the future for people with disabilities, using the EU Disability Card.
Emilianides said that in cooperation with seven EU member states, Cyprus was implementing the Disability Card project, aiming to provide cardholders with particular benefits in the areas of tourism, culture, sports and transportation throughout the countries participating in the project.
Currently, there is no mutual recognition of disability status between EU Member States. A pilot was launched in February 2016 to implement the Card scheme in a first group of eight EU countries. Apart from Cyprus, other countries participating are Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Slovenia and Romania. The Card will be mutually recognised among EU countries participating in the system, on a voluntary basis.