People with Disabilities
In our perception, promoting the improvement of the quality of life of People with Disabilities and achieving their equal participation in the socio-economic and cultural life of our country is an obligation of the state. A historic moment in the process of securing the rights of people with disabilities in our country was the ratification by the Republic of Cyprus, in 2011, of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is the most comprehensive and legally strong binding text in the history of the rights of people with disabilities. Its provisions concern individual, political, economic, social and cultural rights, covering, inter alia, the areas of employment, accessibility to the natural and structured environment and information technology.
Cyprus bottom of the table in promoting the rights of people with disabilities
However, the full enjoyment of the rights of people with disabilities as these are defined in the Convention is still a pressing need and not a reality. The UN has made dozens of negative remarks to Cyprus on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In addition, Cyprus is bottom of the table in Europe as regards expenditure for the disabled. At the same time, our country has neither specialized legislation, nor a comprehensive strategic plan for the disabled, while the current government systematically ignores the positions and concerns of the disabled themselves, of the organized disability movement.
At the same time, Cypriot society still has a long way to go in terms of culture and attitudes towards people with disabilities. The result of all this is the fact that a large section of people with disabilities in Cyprus suffer from social exclusion, poverty and unemployment. It has also been proved that the Guaranteed Minimum Income cannot meet the special needs of people with disabilities, with the result that today, as Eurostat reveals, one in two people with disabilities in Cyprus are unable to cover their expenses. At the same time, the government is dismantling the welfare state and social infrastructure piece by piece, handing them over to the private sector.
These policies lead to further impoverishment, the violation of the human rights and dignity of the disabled. In addition, there are cases of degrading behavior by public and private agencies, serious problems with regards access to public spaces, deprivation of access to education and numerous other phenomena that end up disrespecting the dignity, individual autonomy and independent living, as well as the full participation of people with disabilities in society.
Proposals and assertions of AKEL
AKEL supports the principle that the cost of disability should not be individual, but a social cost which must be eliminated through social interventions. The problems of the disabled are not solved solely by granting benefits, nor can the special needs of the disabled be addressed only by the leveling philosophy of the Guaranteed Minimum Income. Strategic planning and the implementation of social protection programs is demanded, ensuring access to employment, education, therapeutic and pedagogical support services with the ultimate goal of integrating disabled people into society and their quality of life. Policies are needed to strengthen state intervention in social protection issues. Structures and programs to provide support, care, rehabilitation and integration are demanded. AKEL’s main priorities are the following:
- Introduction of specialized legislation defining the social and financial support that a person with a disability is entitled to on the basis of their disability.
- Introduction of effective measures for the implementation of the accessibility principle.
- Creation by the state and local authorities of adequate infrastructures for the provision of social support, socialization and recreation, protection and vocational training of people with disabilities.
- Effective implementation of the quota law for the recruitment of people with disabilities in the public and wider public sector and the extension of the quota principle to the private sector. The Law on the Recruitment of People with Disabilities in the Wider Public Sector was introduced by the Christofias government in 2009 as a positive measure, a tool to compensate for the reduced employment opportunities of the disabled, by creating an obligation of the wider public sector organizations to hire people with disabilities in their job vacancies of up to 10% who meet specific objective criteria.
- Correct implementation of the legislation and the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities on the role of a social involved partner which the Federation of disability organizations must have.
Promoting the rights of people with disabilities is a top priority for AKEL with regards social policy issues at both a national and European level. AKEL MEP Giorgos Georgiou is currently the Vice President of the cross-party disability group of the European Parliament that aims to promote an all-European strategy for a holistic treatment of the problems faced by people with disabilities.