Brussels, 21 Jan 2003
One in ten EU citizens has a disability of some sort, but this need not be a handicap to becoming independent, productive members of society. To address the special needs of this important group, 2003 has been designated as European Year of People with Disabilities.
Throughout 2003, the European Commission, in association with the European Disability Forum, will work to raise awareness of the rights of disabled people to full equality and participation in all areas of life. Although disabled people have long been a priority at both EU and national level, there is still much that needs to be done to improve their quality of life. The aim of the Year's activities will be to inform the general public and Member States of the key issues facing people with impairments, such as discrimination in education and the job market, and access to technologies. People with impairments will be the driving force behind the Year's activities and will act as their own envoys through such initiatives as 'Get on Board' - a bus that will leave Athens this month and carry representatives from the disabled community across the 15 Member States.
Access for all
The Commission has been and aims to continue playing a role in establishing better co-operation between Member States in this important area. It can act as a bridge to promote the exchange of best practices, identify key policy areas and promote joint research. EQUAL, set up in Germany last year with assistance from the European Social Fund, is one such project. Aiming to help disabled people stand on an equal footing in the job market, EQUAL has already crossed borders and has partners in Austria and Holland. Research into ways of enhancing the accessibility of technology has also been a key factor of the Commission's work. Activities in this field include the development of Intelligent Systems for Independent Living (ISIL), 'Design-for-all' products and Intelligent Assistive Systems and Technologies.