EBU asked two of its’ members from countries in the pilot project, to offer some feedback and impressions on the experience, which can hopefully inform future work. Our thanks to Charlotte Santens from Ligue Braille in Belgium, and EBU Secretary General Maria Kyriacou from Cyprus for this valuable input.
European Disability Card (EDC) – The Belgian Experience
Brailleliga / Ligue Braille (EBU member for Belgium) shares the following statement of the Belgian Disability Forum (BDF) about the European Disability Card (EDC) Pilot Project
In January 2009, the General Assembly of the BDF took into account the testimonials of people who had encountered problems in being recognised as disabled when travelling to other EU Member States. The BDF found that in many cases people were subject to decisions or refusals that restricted their free movement. The idea was to ensure equal mobility, based on the voluntary presentation of a card. It was not about opening up new rights. The note was presented to the EDF, which defended the idea at European Commission level.
European pilot project
The European Commissioner decided to launch a pilot project called the European Disability Card (EDC): any person recognised as having a disability in one of the 8 participating Member States can apply for a card, based on the regulations of their Member State. The card allows them to be recognised as disabled in the other 7 Member States. When a person identifies himself with the card, he has the right to certain services. Each participating Member State determines the utilization of the card. For Belgium, the areas concerned are: tourism, leisure and sport.
The European Commission has carried out an evaluation at various levels of the results of the EDC pilot project. The evaluation carried out at Belgian level shows that
- the card holders are satisfied to have a tool allowing them to make their disability known
- they regret that they can not use the EDC throughout the Union
- they regret that too few people (tourist, sports and cultural services) know about the card in Belgium
- they were not asking for price reductions but for guaranteed access to the products and services offered
- they have found the card useful outside the 8 partner countries. For example, many of them used the EDC to obtain facilities when visiting museums in France.
Perspective of an EU-wide Card
The BDF is satisfied with the Commission's announced intention to propose by 2023 an EDC extended to the whole European Union.
However, the fact that the proposal – a proper legislative initiative, this time – would touch upon social rights, (which are a matter of national competence), could at some point block the development of the card.
The BDF is in favour of a pragmatic approach in four stages:
- Rapidly open up the utilization of the card to all Member States
- Maintain the principles of mutual recognition and equality between all European citizens
- Leave it to each Member State to determine the areas of application of the EDC on their territory
- Negotiate progressively the enlargement of the areas of application, based on the negotiating capacity of the "National Councils" and on the support of international NGOs, such as the EDF and EBU.
EU Disability Card – Cyprus perspective
EBU Secretary General Maria Kyriacou provides her personal feedback on the pilot project both from within Cyprus, and as a frequent international traveller.
As a hodophile, the introduction, in Cyprus in 2017, of an EU Disability Card aroused my interest as it promised for its holders’ easier travel within Europe! Even though I soon grew aware that the card was only going to be mutually recognized only by the eight EU member states that agreed to be voluntarily involved in this system, I still filled out an application as it ensured equal access to some specific benefits in areas such as culture, tourism, entertainment, sports and transport. Moreover, as there was not a pre-existent national disability card system in place, I wanted to explore the advantages that such a card could have on a national level as well.
Soon after receiving the card, I became aware that the list of benefits varied from one country to another and at least for Cyprus were not only limited but also quite unattractive. Besides a 50% discount on the bus fare for persons with disabilities and their personal assistant and the free use of beach parasols and sunbeds on a designated area at an organised beach the rest of the benefits listed did not capture my interest. Although someone might consider as attractive the free entrance for persons with disabilities and their assistants to the various archaeological sites still these, along with other listed benefits, have been offered free of charge for a long time to all persons with disabilities irrespective to whether their countries participated to this scheme. In addition, sport’s fans with disabilities soon realised that free entrance for them and their personal assistants concerned only the not so popular international and national championship games whereas football games were excluded from the scheme. For many of the benefits listed, there is also a note telling beneficiaries to contact the Municipal and Village Authorities in advance to check availability. Other criticism concerning the scheme included the fact that the card has an expiration date and that it does not include the type of the holder’s disability
Over the past year, in Cyprus, the EU Disability Card took a new twist. It was oftentimes used as a proof so that people with disabilities can benefit from exemptions and benefits granted to them by the Government on the imposed measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for my experience in using the card when traveling abroad, indeed during my trips to Italy and Romania I benefited from free entrances to monuments. In most cases though, I did not have to present the card to receive the benefits as my disability is visible. Further, it was my understanding that the benefits that were granted to me were also provided to all persons with disabilities coming from countries other than the ones participating to the scheme.
Even though my above reflections might seem quite pessimistic, my intension was not to underestimate the scope of the card which I still believe is of great value and importance to persons with disabilities. The card will be more meaningful if the number of participating countries will be expanded to cover all EU countries and if the list of benefits provided will not have to depend on up to the good will and discretion of each member state but rather adopt a homogeneity among these benefits. And even though traveling at the moment seems like a pipe dream, once it will become to an extent possible then the need for the adoption of the EU disability card might be more relevant than ever before!
By Maria Kyriacou, EBU Secretary General