On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we join in acknowledging the struggle for equal opportunities and equitable access to education, employment, and services. Emphasizing the importance of inclusive policies that promote full integration and active participation in society. As we commemorate this day, we also celebrate the progress made and commit to continue building a fairer, accessible, and more understanding world for all.
Over the past decades, Europe has witnessed a significant evolution in promoting the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities. From the enactment of pioneering legislations to advancements in inclusion policies and opportunities, Europe has led various efforts to ensure equality and dignity for a demographic that, according to the European Parliament data, represents 87 million Europeans.
Leaving No One Behind
Social justice is the core of the European social market economy, underpinning the idea that equity and prosperity are essential for building a strong and resilient society, reflecting Europe's ambition to fully achieve the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Currently, Europe stands as a unique space where prosperity, equity, and a sustainable future are equally prioritized goals.
All Europeans deserve equal opportunities to progress. It is crucial to preserve, adapt, and enhance what previous generations have built. However, not everyone enjoys these advancements equally. For instance, in the workplace, the employment rate for people with disabilities (aged 20 to 64) stands at 50.8%, compared to 75% for people without disabilities.
Challenges like this affect all countries and all Europeans. Addressing them collectively and proactively tackling change is pertinent. The European Pillar of Social Rights represents the European response to these fundamental aspirations. It is our strategy to ensure that transitions towards climate neutrality, digitalization, and demographic change are fair and equitable.
The inclusion of people with disabilities is pivotal in achieving this. Despite progress in awareness and legislation protecting their rights, people with disabilities often face barriers accessing education, employment, healthcare, public spaces, and full participation in community life. Raising awareness and promoting accessibility are key steps to create more inclusive and equitable environments for people with disabilities. Adapting infrastructures, educational programs, job opportunities, fostering greater understanding, and community support are fundamental aspects to create more inclusive and diverse societies.
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, has reinforced the global commitment to inclusion. Disability is explicitly addressed in several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasizing the importance of not leaving anyone behind. This holistic approach reflects a paradigm shift, recognizing that sustainable development is only achievable by including all individuals, regardless of their abilities. Also, let's remember the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international treaty protecting the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Ratified by numerous countries, it sets standards to ensure equal opportunities and full participation in society for people with disabilities.
The business sector has progressively recognized the importance of inclusive employment as a pillar of sustainability. In this context, the low employment rate of people with disabilities has led to rethinking strategies and developing initiatives that aim to effectively integrate this segment into the job market, finding in "green jobs" an open door towards equity and diversity.
With the European Green Deal, Europe has charted its path to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This ambitious growth strategy involves creating new businesses, jobs, and increased investments. Its success will ensure that Europe maintains its leadership in advanced welfare systems, becomes a dynamic center for innovation and competitive entrepreneurship, and promotes upward convergence, social equity, and shared prosperity.
Recently, at the 10th Annual Global Business and Disability Network (GBDN) Conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Fundación ONCE and the ILO presented the report "Making the Green Transition Inclusive for Persons with Disabilities." This document, developed under the Disability Hub Europe project and financed by the European Social Fund, sheds light on changes in the workplace in response to the impacts of climate change, with a special focus on the inclusion of people with disabilities: the transition to ecological sustainability will not only create employment in various economic sectors but also transform and eliminate job roles, presenting both opportunities and challenges for those at risk of exclusion, including people with disabilities. This transition, besides being environmental, has a significant social and economic impact, highlighting the need to adapt policies and strategies to ensure fair and inclusive participation for all groups, particularly those historically marginalized.
The report identifies that people with disabilities may be among the most affected by climate change due to limited access to resources, while also being the first to suffer the negative effects of economic transformation to meet environmental goals. However, they are often overlooked in the development of public policies in response to these challenges.
To achieve a fair and equitable transition, inclusive training programs tailored to the specific needs of people with disabilities are needed. Social dialogue with these groups must be a priority in policy formulation, ensuring the incorporation of accessibility into the transition process towards more ecological economies and social protection systems.
Inclusion in Sustainability Reporting: A New Horizon for Disability
The new European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) marks a milestone by strengthening the focus on human rights, particularly on the employment inclusion of people with disabilities. Starting in 2024, around 50,000 companies in the European Union are urged to include key indicators related to equality, employment, and inclusion of people with disabilities in their sustainability reports. The submission of these reports is required by public interest entities and companies with over 500 employees by 2025, and for those with more than 250 employees meeting the criteria of Law 11/2018, the deadline extends until 2026.
The European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) will facilitate the visibility of disability and non-discrimination, as they establish a series of specific indicators that must be incorporated to comply with the European Directive:
-Percentage of people with disabilities broken down by gender.
-Measures taken to promote and manage the inclusion of people with disabilities, highlighting the application and results achieved during the reported period.
-In the absence of policies, a corresponding justification should be provided.
-Number of incidents of discrimination in the workplace due to disability, with details on measures taken and sanctions applied, if any.
Additionally, on June 13, 2023, Disability Hub Europe launched an updated guide, "Disability in Sustainability Reporting," with the aim of driving greater ambition in including people with disabilities in the workplace. This guide, the result of collaborative efforts between the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and Fundación ONCE, serves as a useful tool for organizations in communicating their commitment to the rights of people with disabilities.
The update of the guide is based on the updated GRI Universal Standards, along with reporting regulations related to specific areas, allowing organizations to maximize GRI's potential in fostering the inclusion of people with disabilities in all their operations and with their stakeholders.
In view of these requirements, organizations are recommended to address the inclusion of people with disabilities not only as a legal mandate but as a comprehensive sustainability strategy. This involves developing non-discrimination policies, having ethical channels to identify and manage incidents of disability-based discrimination, and establishing mechanisms to measure and promote diversity within the organization.