The European Disability Card - A wider perspective from the European Disability Forum (EDF)


The new Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 (External link) was published by the European Commission in March 2021, after several years of intense advocacy by EDF and our members, including EBU. One of the key items that we wanted to see included was the European Disability Card (External link) – and we succeeded! The Card will be one of the “Flagship Initiatives”, that means it is one of the most important and visible action, of the new Disability Rights Strategy. And more: the European Commission promises to deliver the Card by the end of 2023.

Quote: “The Commission will propose creating a European Disability Card by end of 2023 with a view to be recognized in all EU Member States. It will build on the experience of the ongoing EU Disability Card pilot project in eight Member States and upon the European parking card for persons with disabilities”. (Union of Equality – Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021 – 2030 (External link) )

We warmly welcome this initiative because we have been demanding a Card already for more than a decade. Until now, this has been a voluntary initiative under a single pilot project with very little guidance or strategic framework.

How it all started

In fact, the history of the Disability Card goes back already longer: the Disability Movement started campaigning for a Disability Card in 2010. Back then, we were calling it “European Mobility Card” to underline the aspect of freedom of movement in the EU, but it was later changed by the European Commission to the name “Disability Card”.

Following advocacy of the Disability Movement, the European Commission established a “Project Working Group” of interested Member States in 2013 to exchange ideas and pave the way for a possible future European project. This continuous work, to which we have also contributed as observer member of the group and through our active advocacy over the years, started bearing its fruits.

The Pilot project 2016-2018

In 2015, the European Commission announced the launch of a pilot project in 8 different Member States (Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Romania, Slovenia). It provided funding to launch the Card and set up national databases where service providers could list the advantages they give to Card holders. It was based on the principle of mutual recognition – that means that each participating Member States recognizes the Disability Card from the other Member States even if the Card is issued according to national rules.

The pilot project ran between 2016 and 2018 and was only recently evaluated. Overall, the evaluation was positive, stating that the benefits were outweighing the costs of such a project (So far, the evaluation has not been officially published. The information we received was presented at the Disability High Level Group meeting on 9 April 2021 and on the conference of the Portuguese Presidency launching the Disability Strategy on 19-20 April 2021). This led to the concrete commitment in the Disability Strategy as we have it today.

The pilot project served as a good starting ground, but it has been rather limited in its scope and approach. For now it mainly provides advantages for Card holders that relate to activities in the areas of culture, leisure, sport, and tourism. This could be for example a reduction of the entry price for a local museum, a swimming pool, or a cinema. Or other advantages such as shorter queuing times in amusement parks, free entry for a personal assistant at a music festival, or similar. There is also a low level of awareness, both of potential Card holders but also of staff that check the Cards – often they are not familiar with it. This will have to be improved.

Visually impaired persons and the Disability Card

In many Member States, visually impaired persons already have a national Disability Card, and in some they even have a special status giving them additional benefits compared to other persons with disabilities (e.g. travelling for free on public transport with an assistant; exempt from paying certain types of postage, etc.). The white cane is also an internationally recognized “symbol” so that for visually impaired person such a European Card may not seem such a big improvement.

But there are still additional benefits attached. Having a Card which is recognized EU-wide will make it easier to travel without having to explain your disability to staff on public transport or at the entrance of museums, holiday parks, or other attractions. And for those that live in Member States with no national Card, it will even facilitate this in your own country. Instead of having to show a copy of a medical certificate or the government approval of your disability benefits, a simple Card will be easier to carry around.

When designing the Card for the pilot projects, attention was paid to including also writing in braille to identify the Card easily. But at the moment this has been done on a voluntary basis so this feature needs to be part of the obligatory requirements we ask for when campaigning for the European Card.

It could also be that the Card will be available in a digital format – Italy has already announced that they will do this. Here we need to ensure full accessibility for visually impaired persons. Likewise, we will also need to make concrete demands on the accessibility of the national websites where you can check the benefits of the Card.

Finally, we should also look at the connection between guide dogs and the benefits of the Card. For example, how can we ensure that all venues that offer a discount with the Disability Card also allow entry to guide dogs? This could concern public facilities, such as swimming pools, but also private ones such as theme parks or cinemas.

What is next?

So before we can hold the Card in our hands, many questions remain open. The Strategy is very vague on the how such a Card could look like, what advantages it will cover, what legal form will be needed to establish it, and who will be eligible for it. Also the connection with the European Parking Card still remains open. All of this will now need to be determined.

Therefore, EDF is planning several meetings and events to develop our position and further refine our vision of the Disability Card as we would like to see it. Bearing in mind that the EU decision-making procedures take time, 2023 is not far off. Our work has just begun!

How to participate

Save the date for our online workshop on the Disability Card: 16 September, 10:00 - 12:00 CET

By Marie Denninghaus, EDF Policy Coordinator