LADY Tanni Grey-Thompson has spoken up to highlight the positive impact EU membership has had on the lives of people with disabilities and to make the case for a Remain vote on June 23.

There are more than 11 million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in the UK.

Their lives, and those of their families, have been improved through our membership of the EU. Many positive changes in our laws and policies over the past 15 years result from European initiatives. Leaving Europe would put these advances at risk.

Leaving the EU would also mean that UK disabled people would not enjoy the potential benefit of exciting new EU proposals and it would jeopardise much needed financial support for UK disabled people from EU Structural and Investment Funds – which have just been changed to place more emphasis on anti-poverty and social inclusion measures.

A potential post-Brexit recession would also leave less money to spend on public services and disability support.

Lady Grey-Thompson said:

“Our membership of the European Union has had real, positive benefits for the millions of UK residents with limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities.

“It has helped to counter workplace discrimination, obliged transport providers to make their services more accessible and secured access to some UK disability benefits for Britons living in other EU countries.

“Not only would leaving Europe jeopardise these, it would close us off from enjoying the rewards of upcoming legislation that will further increase accessibility and risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on much-needed support services.

“A vote to Remain offers support and the promise of a brighter future. A vote to leave offers nothing but uncertainty.”

The EU provides platforms for connecting senior officials (equality and human rights commissions and disabled people’s organisations) from all Member States so they can share ideas.

How Existing EU Disability Law and Policy have had a Positive Impact on UK Disabled People.

  1. Equality Law: EU Directives have cracked down on discrimination in the workplace. Leaving would risk that
  2. Transport Because of the EU Air Passengers Regulation 2006, operators are required to provide live (and trained) assistance to disabled passengers travelling by air throughout the EU. Similar obligations are imposed for travel by train, ship, and by buses and coaches. Because of the EU Parking Badge scheme, there is mutual recognition of preferential terms for the use of certain parking facilities by disabled people in all EU countries.
  3. EU directives mean the packaging of medicinal products must include Braille labelling.
  4. Accessibility in Procurement Processes: EU directives state that, public bodies in the UK (and other EU countries) must include accessibility in the technical specifications. This means public money should no longer be used to introduce or maintain inaccessible structures, systems or services.
  5. Benefits: Disabled people from the UK can claim certain UK disability-related benefits while living in other EU countries.

Proposed EU Legislation that would Benefit Disabled People

1. European Accessibility Act. In December 2015, the European Commission published plans for a European Accessibility Act. This could create a mechanism which ensures manufacturers and suppliers of products including computers, phones, ATM and ticketing machines, e-books and television equipment comply with agreed accessibility standards applicable throughout the EU. Providers of some services (including banking and transport) will also be required to comply with accessibility standards (including in relation to their websites and buildings. UK law does not currently require manufacturers to make goods or products accessible to disabled people. The European Accessibility Act would go a long way to addressing this.

2. Public Sector Website Accessibility Directive. This proposal would require the public sector providers of key services to ensure that their websites are accessible. It would establish EU-wide standards to assist disabled citizens to access public services – not only in their own country but also when working and travelling in other EU Member States. In the UK, inaccessible websites continue to exclude and marginalise disabled people. This proposal has the potential to reinforce and clarify the obligations imposed on providers of public services by UK disability equality law not to discriminate against disabled people.

3. EU ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty) There is a proposal that the EU should ratify this treaty. This would mean making an exception to copyright rules so that accessible copies of books could be produced and distributed to disabled people who struggle to read print, without first seeking permission from the right holder – UK copyright law already contains an exception to this effect. It would also make it easier to exchange copies of books in accessible formats across national borders. For visually impaired and print disabled people in the UK, EU ratification would make it possible to import accessible versions of books produced in other EU countries.