Berlin Conference on education, employment, accessibility - Empowering persons with disabilities (June 2007)

The German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs issued the following statement to mark the conclusion of the European Conference on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities held within the framework of Germany's EU Council Presidency: The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs hosted the European Conference on the Integration of Persons with Disabilities which was attended by renowned international experts. The conference was held under the motto "Education, employment, accessibility - empowering persons with disabilities". More than 300 representatives from the world of politics, administration and science as well as the social partners and civil society took part. The main discussion points at the Conference were the opportunities, challenges and prospects in relation to enhancing the integration of persons with disabilities and enhancing measures to remove barriers for them.

The key theories put forward by the participants at the Conference can be summed up as follows:

* Mainstreaming in education for children with and without disabilities in an integrated system enhances the quality of teaching and learning for all. Assistance must be provided on an individual basis within the framework of mainstreaming in education.
* Employment and qualifications are the key to independence. Being employed in the general labour market promotes the independence of persons with disabilities in other areas of life.
* Employment strategies for persons with disabilities, including training and advanced training, must be organised primarily on the general labour market. Assisted forms of employment and the open labour market need to be integrated and be mutually penetrable.
* Removing barriers is an indispensable prerequisite for exercising and implementing the rights of persons with disabilities. In view of the demographic trends, there is no doubt that accessibility can also benefit society as a whole.

Most of these conclusions and goals drawn from the discussions, lectures and presentations followed on seamlessly from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently signed by Germany and 21 other EU Member States, continuing and substantiating the principles set forth in this Convention.

The motto of the European Year for People with Disabilities 2003 "Nothing about disabled people without disabled people" also applied to this Conference. It is also intended to steer the implementation process by involving associations of persons with disabilities.

During the Conference, the host, Franz M√ɬľntefering, Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, also chaired a meeting of European ministers responsible for policies for persons with disabilities at which examples of country-specific success stories and projects in the field of integration and participation of persons with disabilities were presented. The following four examples played a role, amongst others:

* Austria is pursuing the concept of "disability flexicurity" - a non-profit-making recruitment scheme. The aim is to encourage employers to employ persons with disabilities and to test their achievement potential in order to build confidence between the contracting parties. The objective is for them to become employed in jobs in which they are subject to social insurance contributions.
* Norway is launching the campaign "Universal Design". Within the framework of its policy on disabilities, the Government is focusing on the comprehensive, barrier-free design of transport, products, buildings and services (e.g. telecommunications facilities and services).
* Slovenia emphasises the huge importance of close cooperation between the Government and associations. Twelve specifically defined goals are being pursued in all areas of the policy for disabled persons within the framework of the already existing "Disability Action Plan 2007-2013". This Action Plan was developed in cooperation with the associations and is thus in itself an example of cooperation.

The Conference met the claim of being a crucial step on the way towards ratifying and implementing the Convention in the EU Member States. The Government delegations of the Member States acknowledged the basic importance of the Convention for the better promotion, better protection and better safeguarding of human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities. The participants agreed and assured each other that swift and decisive initiatives need to be launched regarding the imminent and broad ratification of the UN Convention. This demonstrates that they perceived the Conference as a strong, clear signal which transcends the boundaries of Europe.

FIMITIC was represented at the Conference by its Vice-President Dr. Klaus Voget, Austria.

Text Source: German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs

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