April 1st, the day the European Parliament settled as the most remarkable date for the European Deafblind Community

2004 was an unprecedented great year for the European Deafblind Community. On April 1st, the European Parliament formally adopted a historic written Declaration on the rights of deafblind people. The document also lists the rights to which deafblind people should be entitled.

The Declaration is a 200-word statement about the fact that deafblindness is a distinct disability. Therefore, deafblind people need specific support provided by people with specialized knowledge. It also:

  1. Calls on the institutions of the European Union and the Member States to recognize and implement the rights of people who are deafblind.
  2. Declares that people who are deafblind should have the same rights as the ones that are enjoyed by all EU citizens; these should be enforced by the appropriate legislation in each Member State and should include:
  • the right to participate in the democratic life of the European Union;
  • the right to work and access training, with appropriate lighting, contrast, and adaptations;
  • the right to have person-centered health and social care;
  • the right to receive lifelong learning;
  • the right to receive one-to-one support where appropriate from communicator-guides, deafblind interpreters and/or intervenors.
  1. Instructs its President to forward this declaration and the list of its signatories to the Council, the Commission and the governments of the Member States.

The ground-breaking decision was the culmination of a determined campaign run by organizations, deafblind people, families, and professionals in Europe. On the side of EDbN (European Deafblind Network) Sense the UK, led the campaign, working closely with Mr. Richard Howitt MEP, Chair of the Disability Intergroup in the European Parliament, on a campaign to get deafblindness recognized as a separate disability at European level.

Back in those days, Lucy Drescher, from Sense UK and a key activist, reported that deafblind people from Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, and France gathered in Brussels for the evening with representatives of organizations such as Sense, Lega del Filo D’Oro, CRESAM, ANSPA, APASCIDE, APSOCECAT, and Spermalie. Over eighty people, including ten MEPs, attended a very successful event. On April 1, 2004, the plenary session of the European Parliament formally adopted the Declaration.

This fact remains as the most 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 encouraging them to sign up. From EDbN we strongly recommend setting this as the European Deafblind Awareness Day as it commemorates the most important date for the Deafblind community, as well as reminding the power of a great team pursuing an otherwise almost impossible goal.