Europe recognises deafblindness as a distinct disability

Lucy Drescher reports on her work joining friends and colleagues across Europe that led to this ground-breaking decision!

A historic Written Declaration on the rights of deafblind people was formally adopted by the European Parliament on 1 st April, 2004. This was the culmination of a long campaign by deafblind people, families and professionals in Europe. The Written Declaration is a 200 word statement about the fact that deafblindness is a distinct disability. It lists the rights to which deafblind people should be entitled.

EDbN (European Deafblind Network) has been working for some time with Richard Howitt MEP, Chair of the Disability Intergroup in the European Parliament, on a campaign to get deafblindness recognised as a separate disability at the European level. Sense, as a member of EDbN, has been leading on this campaign.

 

May 2002

Mr Howitt spoke at the Social Inclusion seminar organised by Sense International, Lega del Filo D’Oro and Casa Pia de Lisboa and attended by many EDbN members. He promised to support the Charter for deafblind citizens of Europe.

2003

Following up on Richard Howitt’s promise I went to Brussels In July last year to meet Richard and Sophie Beaumont from European Disability Forum. Richard and Sophie were both very keen to work with deafblind people and get deafblindness recognised at the European level. It was agreed that recognition of deafblindness at a European level could be used, as appropriate, by people in the various member states to persuade their governments to give deafblind people the rights they need to play a full part in society.

January 2004 –Brussels

A reception and an exhibition were held in the European Parliament in the first week of January to launch Written Declaration 1/2004. Richard Howitt MEp, Mario Mantovani MEP, Liz Lynne MEP, Iida Figueiredo MEP and Patricia McKenna MEP submitted this declaration on behalf of EDbN.
The reception hosted by Richard Howitt was held with the Disability Intergroup of MEPs in the European Parliament on 6th January 2004.

 

Deafblind people from Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK and France gathered in Brussels for the evening with representatives of organisations Sense, Lega del Filo D’Oro, CRESAM, anspa, APASCIDE, APSOCECAT and spermalie. Over eighty people, including ten MEPs attended the very successful event. William Green from Italy spoke on behalf of DBI (Deafblind International), in his position as President and Wolfgang Angermann from Germany spoke in his position as Acting Chair of EDbN. Peter Vanhoutte from Belgium spoke about his personal experiences and why recognition of deafblindness is important to him. All of the speakers welcomed the Written Declaration and encouraged MEPs to sign up to it, saying that even if they did not believe in it, many of their constituents did very strongly! In the same week an exhibition was held in the European Parliament. Photos of deafblind people from across Europe were displayed along with information about the organisations that are members of EDbN.

 

The Countdown!

The declaration was available for MEPs to sign up to for three months from 12th January until 12th April. EDbN members spent these three months endlessly emailing, faxing, writing to and phoning their MEPs, telling them about their personal experiences of deafblindness. The easiest time for MEPs to sign up to written declarations is when they are in Strasbourg for the plenary sessions, because all the declarations are available just outside the chamber. In March I went to the two Strasbourg sessions and stood outside the chamber holding up a poster to remind them to sign the declaration! Aside from getting very tired feet, this gave me the opportunity to meet many of the MEPs and remind them to the sign the declaration when they might otherwise have rushed past without signing.

I was in Strasbourg on 1 April and as the voting was coming to an end we still needed 5 signatures! With the assistance of Liz Lynne MEP the last few MEPs were persuaded to sign and the declaration was adopted with 323 signatures, which was more than half of all the 626 MEPs. This meant that the Declaration was formally adopted by the plenary session of the European Parliament in the afternoon of 1 st April.

The adoption of this declaration is a very important success for deafblind people all over Europe. We could not have achieved this success without deafblind people, their families and professionals across Europe working together to lobby their MEPs by emailing, faxing, phoning or writing to them asking them to sign up. This is only the first step -now that we have begun to work together we can ensure that the voices of deafblind people are heard throughout the European Union.

If you have any questions please contact Lucy Drescher at lucy.drescher@sense.org.uk.