Submission by Voice of Vision Impairment Ireland (VVI) to the EU Commission
22nd December 2022
1. Introduction to VVI
VVI is Ireland’s Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) specialising in the defence of and campaigning for the Human Rights of visually impaired people (i.e., people who are blind or partially sighted). DPOs is the general term used in Ireland for what the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) refers to as “representative organisations” (CRPD, Article 4 (3), or “organisations of people with disabilities (General Comment 7, passim.).
2. Need to Prioritise and Distinguish DPOs in Consultations
In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), Articles 4 (3) and 33 3)), DPOs must be closely consulted and actively involved in disability-related matters, such as this consultation; and as clarified by the UN Committee, in General Comment No. 7 (GC7), DPOs should be prioritised, in terms of their views and opinions as well as being first port-of-call, over all other civil society organisations in such processes, and this includes prioritisation over disability service providers (DSPs) (cf. GC7, paras. 13, 14, 23, 56, etc.).
This also means that instead of being aggregated in consultations, DPOs must be distinguished from all other civil society organisations (ibid., paras. 13-5).
It also means that consultations are ongoing, and not one-off (ibid., para. 28).
In this particular process, it is our experience that DPOs such as VVI have been totally ignored, and everything has been done through the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI), which is an umbrella-group controlled by the disability industry in Ireland, and is as far as one could get from being a DPO.
No doubt this has occurred as a result of DFI being Ireland’s representative to the European Disability Forum, something which also needs to be sorted out, since non-DPOs should not be representatives to the EDF.
See post-submission note at the end of this document regarding the EU Commission’s neglect of its obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD in this consultative process.
3. Language – European Accessibility Card
Before looking at the concept and accessibility features, language and terminology should be examined.
According to the social model of disability, which is espoused by VVI, as well as most of the rest of the global DPO movement, disability is a negative social construct, and not characteristic intrinsic to the disabled person. When we speak of disabled people, we mean ‘disabled’ in the verbal sense: i.e., that we are being disabled by bad design, prejudice, neglect, lack of understanding etc., rather than ‘disabled being used as an adjectival identifier. In this way, disability is comparable to ageism, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., which are other negative social constructs.
So, disability is not an identity, but rather, a negative condition of discrimination. Humanity has a diverse array of conditions and physical and sensory impairments, but what disables us are the obstacles preventing us from accessing the world on an equal basis to what are imagined to be ‘normal’ people.
So, while the title “European Disability Card” follows the medical model of using disability as an identifier, and strongly suggests that the negative social construct is intrinsic to us, it is not appropriate.
In keeping with the social model of disability, a far better title for the proposed scheme would be “the European Accessibility Card”. Only disabled people would be eligible to possess such a card, but the extra accessibility it provides would help to mitigate against the socially-created phenomenon of disability – i.e., the disabling of us on a consistent basis by policies and design etc.
However, to avoid confusion, for the rest of this submission, we use European Disability Card (or EDC).
4. The Concept
4.1. Shortage of Recognised Equivalences from country to country
It has been noted by one of our members that in the UK, Italy and elsewhere, “if you can produce a card to say you have a disability you get discounts or better seating in theatres, etc.” But in Ireland, he has encountered the phenomenon of ‘if you don’t have a wheelchair then you’re not disabled’.
Our members who do not use mobility aids such as long canes or guide dogs are more likely to encounter such discrimination. Even when we travel to the UK or Germany, for example, we have nothing to show in lieu of a disability card.
Another VVI member showed his Irish Dept. of Social Welfare Free Travel Companion Pass at an exhibition in Berlin, but was told that this wasn’t recognised. This VVI member also noted that the disability card in Germany also includes free travel. This member then showed his Disability Parking Permit which is issued by the Irish Wheelchair Association and valid for parking in the European Union, and this worked for a concession, since it was recognised as a pan-European document.
Incidentally, this same VVI member had difficulties getting a companion rail ticket free of charge in Germany, since, for validation reasons, “you are required to obtain it from the rail company in your own country […Irish Rail…] Irish Rail), however [Irish Rail] closed their British and European Rail offices some time ago and outsourced it to a company who don’t want to know you”.
As we understand it, under the European Rules, the person with the disability is supposed to get a free ticket for their companion when they purchase a ticket. He goes on to make the observation that “Clearly, some type of pan European document was needed and many people already have the disability parking permit. Under European Union freedom of movement rules, we should be able to move and reside in another EU country with the same benefits.”. The problem appears to be current lack of mutual recognition among EU States.
Notwithstanding the UK examples above, the non-transferability of equivalents among EU states is a problem which appears already to be in breach of EU legislation and treaties. While a single European Disability Card would help to circumvent such current obstacles, the fact that such obstacles exist at all should also be dealt with.
4.2. The complication of having specific service cards
A VVI member cites the Cinema Exhibit Association (CEA) card for disabled people still operating in Britain and Ireland, which grants free entry of a guide/companion, for example, to visually impaired people. This can be the difference between accessing or not accessing a central point of culture in our community.
4.3. Question of Criteria
Given that there is no common EU position on what constitutes vision impairment, let alone any other impairment or condition, should it be a case that the rules of a person’s own country apply?
4.4. Medium Term Measure
Ultimately, with proper implementation of universal design, the latter situation, at least, would be averted. As one of our members put it, “Having to go on to a register to get services because you have a disability, that’s discriminatory, like having to be registered blind…”.
So, it should be stressed that a European Disability Card is not an acceptance that the EU is diminishing, in any way, the obligations of universal design (CRPD, Art. 2), but rather, that it is about targeting interim supports and concessions in the public and private sphere, as a mitigation against the endemic institutionalised discrimination that currently exists, and which will take some time to melt.
5.1. Accessible Application Procedure
The following are necessary from a universal design perspective:
- Application processes should be flexible in terms of communication types and easily and freely available to the applicant.
- Multiple formats should be on offer, including combinations. For example, some people are happy using a combination of phone and email etc.
- Any required documentation must be accessible by a visually impaired applicant. i.e., expecting a visually impaired person to source information from a third party when that third party refuses to provide said information in an accessible or useable format, the application process itself becomes inaccessible.
- If photographic ID on the card is required, the process of obtaining and providing such ID should be independently accessible to visually impaired people.
5.2. The Physical Card
The card should contain Tactile and High Contrast Large Markings, and be distinctive from any other cards, so that even a sighted person could identify it by putting their hand in their pocket (i.e., without looking at the card).
Since the card is likely to provide for concession rates, etc., is an item worth stealing. As such, the mechanisms by which a visually impaired person is expected to produce such a card should be very security-conscious. For example, a visually impaired person may not be in a position to positively identify the legitimacy of an official looking to examine such a card.
5.4. Virtual Card
For those who find it difficult to carry multiple cards, an app should exist whereby a disabled person can carry the European Disability Card on their smartphone. This could also be linked, via Bluetooth, so that neither the phone nor a card has to be openly displayed.
6.1. Free Travel
The card should cover free travel on public transport by sea, land and air. This would be analogous to the Free Travel Scheme in Ireland and the Disability Card in France, but using the best from both.
A carer, or any other person accompanying a cardholder for the sake of assistance, should also benefit, equally.
6.3. Linkage to Social Services
The card should also include linkage to the EU 111 card or social services subject to EU data regulations.
6.4. Blue Badge and Equivalents
The card should be useable in the procurement of a ‘blue badge’ which allows for priority parking for disabled drivers and passengers.
When making this submission through the online portal to the EU Commission, there was no option to declare that the submission was from a DPO. Instead, there was merely the options of “individual”, “NGO”, or “trade union”. As such, it appears that the EU Commission, in this consultation, ignores its obligations under the CRPD (cf. General Comment 7, para. 13), that DPOs be “distinguished” in consultations relating to disability. Beyond this, we can say that there is no evidence of the Commission implementing its obligation to “prioritise” DPOs in the consultation.
Furthermore, when making the submission as an NGO, the choices were:
Micro (1-9 employees)
Small (10-39 employees)
Medium (40-249 employees)
Or Large (250 or more employees)
Since VVI continues to get zero supports from the State, we have zero paid employees. So, even though we are a very relevant and legitimate NGO (as a DPO), it appears that if we read “employees” as meaning ‘paid employees’, then we would be de facto barred from making a submission.
Since VVI has 16 unpaid reps (representatives), we have put this as our number of “employees”, even though they are employed in their task in a voluntary capacity. We have had no choice but to take this interpretation of “employed”, since otherwise the choices would have disabled us from making a submission.
We urge the EU Commission to up its game in terms of its obligatory compliance with Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, since on the evidence of this consultation, at least, it does not appear to be aware of those obligations.