(CoE / Red) – “This year, we mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities as the COVID19 pandemic is still raging in Europe. The pandemic has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities and exposed all the pre-existing failings in Council of Europe member states. Among many others, these failings include the absence of disability-inclusive emergency preparedness; lack of accessibility; discrimination in accessing health care; a failure to implement the right to live independently and being included in the community; insufficient access to information; and lack of participation and involvement of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes.
While these issues were magnified by the pandemic, none of them is new. In fact, they are all subject to obligations enshrined in international human rights standards, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Council of Europe member states are already bound by. The COVID-19 pandemic should be a lesson to all of us that these standards are not just aspirational ideals: failure to implement them leads to suffering and loss of life which could and should have been avoided or mitigated.
While we all wish to go back to a sense of normalcy, let us not lose sight of the fact that, as far as persons with disabilities are concerned, the post-COVID-19 world must look very different from the pre-pandemic reality, with a renewed commitment to finally deliver on what we have signed up to.”
Dunja Mijatović is right to remind the 47 member states of the Council of Europe that the legal framework to better protect persons with disabilities already exists. Given the increased pressure on these persons, it is important that the member states finally put in practice what they have committed to. The quality of a democratic system shows in the way a society handles the weakest members. The “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” should be an occasion to remember our duty to protect and support persons with disabilities, because – every life matters!