The 15th World Congress of and for people with intellectual disabilities and their families begins tomorrow in Berlin.

Elisabeth Schroedter, vice president of the Employment and Social Committee in the European Parliament says:  

“The Federal Government is again playing a masquerade to the international public. To the international guests of the World Congress who travelled to Berlin, she plays the miracle worker concerning inclusion. On the European stage she still blocks the most important directive, which in Europe and Germany enables people with disabilities to participate in society in accordance with the UN Convention.  

For me it is a farce, if now Mrs. Merkel talks in her speech about “inclusion of people with intellectual disability – a social duty” (1), although she has recently signalled to the Spanish Presidency that the 5th anti-discrimination directive would be too heavy a burden for Germany and is therefore fundamentally opposed to this important law for the inclusion of people with disabilities.

I therefore call on Mrs Merkel, either to end the masquerade and to admit that she refuses equal opportunities and social participation as a right for people with disabilities or to finally support the necessary legislation at a European level.   Mrs. Merkel, give yourself a jolt and the World Congress a gift tomorrow: Stop its blockade against the principal anti-discrimination policy for people with disabilities! ”  

(1)  Title of the video message by Angela Merkel at the opening of the 15th World Congress’ inclusion – rights a reality on 16 June 2010.  

Background: The UN convention on the rights and social participation of people with disabilities is the basis of the 15th World Congress of Inclusion International which opens tomorrow and takes place until 19th June in Berlin. The ratification of the UN Convention was adopted in December 2009 by all EU governments. The proposal for the 5th Anti-discrimination policy is in its essential parts equivalent to the legal implementation of this UN convention. Negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council on this dossier falter because of the fundamental blockade the German government.

ENIL director Corina Zolle in front of the German Reichstag for the Human Chain protest

ENIL is proud to be associated with the European protest day for the equality of people with disabilities that was held in Berlin and in 400 other places in Germany on 05 May.

On 05 May, a human chain from the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag called for the fast and thorough implementation of the United Nations Convention on the rights of people with disabilities. 

The motto for the protest was ‘Inclusion – being there from the start.’  Inclusion, as SPD (Social Democratic Party) General Secretary Andrea Nahles said at a rally in front of the Reichstag, begins with “inclusive education and community at school.”

ENIL director Corina Zolle saw the protest as an opportunity to raise awareness among politicians about the needs of Personal Assistance users: “the budgets for personal assistance have to be sufficient concerning the needs of an assistance user and must not be means tested.”

With the passing of a light in the chain of more than 500 people, the organizers wanted to connect symbolically the Brandenburg Gate with the German Bundestag to show politicians the way to inclusion. Georg Schnitzler, managing director of Lebenshilfe gGmbH in Berlin, stressed that the UN Convention does not only describe general rights, but also very concrete measures, geared towards the reality of disabled people’s lives.

“Although Germany has ratified the UN Convention, that does not mean that we can take it for granted that we get our rights,” said Dorte Gregorschewski of Women’s Web, mentioning the child abuse cases from the 1960s and 1970s. She criticized the fact that neither special interest groups of disabled women nor any other organization of disabled persons were invited to a roundtable with the Federal Government. “And this even though it is well-known that girls and women with disabilities experience violence more frequently than non-disabled. Circa 60% of women with disabilities living in institutions have already experienced sexual violence. This is a scandal. ”

Even if the UN Convention has been applied in German law for more than a year, the state and federal governments should finally act to make it a tangible reality, especially in education. When it comes to disabled and non-disabled students learning together, the Federal Republic is far behind other European countries.

Corina Zolle

For the German disability rights movement the idea of independent living has always been a key topic. Many activities have taken place over the last two decades in order to promote independent living and personal assistance outside of institutions.

The disability rights movement has been very successful in establishing a concept of personal assistance, the so called “employer model”, and an infrastructure for support in independent living. At local level there are centres run by disabled people which offer peer counselling and support for all disabled people who want to live independently. There are also several national (umbrella) organisations which provide networks and also lobby on the issue.

Direct payments have been introduced since the new rehabilitation and participation law came into force in 2001; they take the form of personal budgets and have become a legal right since 2008. But our experience during the last years has shown, that there are still many problems with the administration who grants the money for assistance. The personal budget is means-tested.

Those of us who had the possibility to leave institutions, those who live independently and have a job have to pay their personal assistance (beyond the work place) from their own pockets. They can only keep about €700 in addition to the rent. Even the wives or husbands of disabled people have to give their income to pay the personal assistance of their partners.

The structure of homes, nursing care, special schools and kindergartens is still strong. Only 13% of children with disabilities go to mainstream schools. It is difficult to reverse this. If you want to get people out of institutions, there are objections from the authorities, from disabled peoples parents, from staff members of the institutions and sometimes even from disabled people themselves. The latter are often afraid to leave their sheltered homes and need positive role models. Authorities object if institutionalization seems to be the cheaper way.

In Germany official disability policies mainly focus on labour market integration. A number of laws were reformed to also guarantee full participation in society to people with disabilities.

But legislation for personal assistance is still missing.