European Commission

The Barcelona Declaration (1995), which resulted from the European Congress "The City and the Disabled", was a commitment at local government level to promote inclusion of people with disabilities in Europe. In signing, local authorities and municipalities agreed to develop a plan of action for implementation, including consulting people with disabilities and their advocates. The Declaration stated that "the undersigning cities assume that the limits between "normality" and disability are ill-defined, and therefore it is necessary to consider the differences between citizens as a part of the diversity of which society is made up, designing services and structures so that they can be used by everyone, and making unnecessary, in most cases, the existence of specific elements for disabled persons." The Declaration was signed by over 400 municipalities between 1995 and 2004, 101 of which were Irish local authorities.

This considerable achievement was facilitated by a Government funded project (Barcelona Project 2001-2004), which promoted the adoption of the non-binding Barcelona Declaration. This project was coordinated and delivered by the Institute for Design and Disability (IDD), which is the Irish branch of the European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD). Its impressive uptake by Irish local authorities was also influenced by the piloting of seven local authority social inclusion units under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness ; Ireland's growing suite of equality legislation; and the administrative and financial support of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government now the Department-of-housing-local-government-and-heritage and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform now Department of Justice.

The European Concept of Accessibility (European Commission, 1996) was produced to inspire political action and the development of regulations and standards. The technical assistance manual, updated in 2003, was based on the Seven Universal Design Principles, focusing primarily on the built Environment.

In 1999, the European Commission's eEurope initiative was launched, aiming to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that promoted social inclusion. Adopting a Universal Design approach, a series of action plans (eEurope 2002, eEurope 2005, i2010, Digital Europe 2025 ) have steered the member states towards the three key objectives:

  • Bringing every citizen, home and school, every business and administration, online and into the digital age.
  • Creating a digitally literate Europe, supported by an entrepreneurial culture ready to finance and develop new ideas.
  • Ensuring that the whole process is socially inclusive, builds consumer trust and strengthens social cohesion.

European Union

The Treaty of Amsterdam

Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), the first Treaty to mention disability in the European Union, provides a strong legal basis for action against discrimination on the grounds of disability.

European Union anti-discrimination Directives

European Union anti-discrimination Directives (such as the  Council Directive 2000/78/EC) ensure that all member states introduce relevant legislation on a National basis.

European Commission: Disability Strategy 2021-2030

The European Commission Union of Equality: Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030  builds on the results of the previous European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which paved the way to a barrier-free Europe and to empower persons with disabilities so they can enjoy their rights and participate fully in society and economy. The Strategy recommends “mainstreaming the Universal Design approach for better accessibility and provision of reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities into all actions.”

Key flagship initiatives under this strategy are directly related to our work. They include:

  • AccessibleEU: a knowledge base providing information and good practices on accessibility across sectors (by end 2022)
  • European Disability Card: the European Commission will propose a European Disability Card that would apply to all EU countries. The card will make it easier for persons with disabilities to get the proper support when they travel or move to another country in the European Union. (by end 2023)
  • Guidance recommending improvements on independent living and inclusion in the community: This will contribute to enabling persons with disabilities to live in accessible, supported housing in the community or to continue living at home (2023).
  • A framework for social services of excellence for persons with disabilities (2024)
  • A package to improve labour market outcomes of persons with disabilities (to be launched second half of 2022)
  • Disability Platform: The Disability Platform brings together national authorities responsible for implementation of the Convention, organisations of persons with disabilities and the Commission. It supports the implementation of the strategy and enhances cooperation and exchange on implementing the Convention.
  • Renewed HR strategy for the European Commission, including actions to promote diversity and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is an independent international organisation which aims to strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law throughout its 47 member states (which includes all members of the European Union).

Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field

Eighteen of the Council of Europe member states, including Ireland, are members of the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field, a subgroup of the Council of Europe which is of particular relevance here. This body has been proactive in tackling the issue of universal design and its place in society.

The Council of Europe Partial Agreement recommendations (called "resolutions") are not legally binding, but aim to inspire political action at a national level.

The Tomar Resolution (ResAP (2001)1)

The Resolution "on the introduction of the principles of universal design into the curricula of all occupations working on the built Environment" (The Tomar Resolution) aims to improve the accessibility of the built Environment by recommending the inclusion of the principles of Universal Design into the curricula and training of all vocations working on the built Environment, in particular architects, engineers and town planners. Through a co-ordinated set of measures introducing the concept of universal design into the curricula of all occupations working on the built environment, people of all ages, sizes and abilities should be enabled to have as much mobility and access to buildings, as well as means of transport, as possible, so that they can play a full role in society and take part in economic, social, cultural, leisure, and recreational activities.

Resolution ResAP (2001)3

Resolution ResAP (2001)3 "Towards full citizenship for people with disabilities through inclusive new technologies" recommends drawing up national strategies to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from the opportunities of new technologies, rather than being excluded due to newly created barriers caused by inappropriate technology design or provision.

Resolution ResAP(2007)3 “Achieving full participation through Universal Design” (adopted by the Committee of Ministers December 2007

Resolution "On achieving full participation through Universal Design" recommends “Governments should accept Universal Design as a philosophy and strategy supporting implementation of full citizenship and independent living of all people, including people with disabilities. and implementation of Universal Design into "all aspects of society", including the built Environment, ICT networks, transport, services, tourism, products and goods, information, employment and education.

“Policy makers should first of all adopt a co-ordinated, harmonised and intersectoral approach to Universal Design.  Policies on disability at national levels should be inclusive and mainstreaming, incorporating Universal Design, which should be acknowledged and promoted in the development, implementation and monitoring of policies.  Bearing in mind that these policies touch upon equal opportunity issues, they should be applied at the highest level of legal responsibility, and should include enforcement measures”.

Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)8 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on achieving full participation through Universal Design (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers 2009

Member states should take actions incorporating the principles of Universal Design, encompassing all aspects of society, for example the built environment, information and communications technology (ICT) networks, transport, services, tourism, products and goods, information, employment and education.