Dirk Jarré in Copenhagen

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Danske Seniorer and EURAG Conference on Accessibility is the Necessity” Copenhagen, Danish Parliament

04 May 2018

Contribution by Dirk Jarré

President of the European Federation of Older Persons, EURAG

Dear friends and colleagues!

When we address the very important theme of today’s joint conference of the “Dansk Seniorer” association and the European Federation of Older Persons we have to determine, to start with, the background and the central concerns of the issue of “accessibility”.

Allow me to make some very brief introductory remarks in this respect. I am sure that the distinguished contributors to this conference will somehow expand on many of the following aspects and help us to deepen our views and understanding of the issue of accessibility.

The demand of equal, fair and adequate access to human services and essential goods for a decent life is based on the fundamental rights of each individual and of specific groups – like, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination (on any ground), the right to lead a life in independence, the right to participate in all aspects of society and, most importantly, the full recognition of the dignity of every human being.

These fundamental rights are enshrined in various important documents that constitute the ethical and political basis of our European society, like

  • The European Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe

  • The European Charter of Social Rights of the Council of Europe

  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

  • Specific conventions of the United Nations and of the Council of Europe concerning particular groups – like children, persons with special needs, minorities and migrants, just to name some of them.

To illustrate this I would like to quote the titles of some five paras of the Revised European Social Charter of the Council of Europe from 1996.

  • Article 11 deals with the right of everybody to protection of health.

  • Article 12 deals with the right of everybody to social security.

  • Article 13 deals with the right of everybody to social and medical assistance.

  • Article 14 deals with the rightof everybody to benefit from social welfare services.

  • And article 15 deals with the right of persons with disabilities to independence, social integration, and participation in the life of the community.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which became full-fledged primary law by the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, stipulates in:

  • Article 1 on human dignity: Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

  • Article 21 on non-discrimination: Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

  • Article 25 on the rights of the elderly: The Union recognises and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life.

However, what we find in these conventions and charters is one thing, even though very important indeed, but the reality is often very different – not really fulfilling the promises or just lacking behind. Consequently, it is of paramount importance to stand up for these fundamental rights and help to ensure their effective exercise.

Such efforts must be based on the concept of universal “social access”, meaning the actual reach of basic, adequate services, facilities and amenities –be they provided by public structures or by the private sector or by civil society organisations.

Important areas of human needs where that applies in particular are: income security, adequate housing, healthy food, appropriate clothing, energy and transportation. Health care, mental health and social care are equally important – and so is access to education, information and communication systems, and alike. Not to be forgotten are legal services, financial services, conflict resolution supportand, very decisively, participation in all political and decision-making processes that have direct or indirect consequences for the individual or specific groups. In all these areas the slogan “Nothing on us without us” should be fully respected and rigorously implemented.

In all policies and strategies aiming at ensuring equal, fair and adequate access to human services and essential goods for a decent life, special attention has to be given to:

  • the real needs of the person requiring such services and goods,

  • the background, the history and the actual situation of the person,

  • the person’s condition, limitations and restrictions,

  • the capacities and capabilities of the person that can play a role,

  • the self-determined preferences of the persons,

  • the concrete possibility of the person of “choice and voice,

  • the recognition, respect and esteem of the identity of the person.

Basic and indispensable conditions for the usability and quality of human services and essential goods for a decent life are in particular:

  • that there is a basic protected right to make use of them,

  • that there is a legislative framework and clear process ensuring user friendliness,

  • that the “triple A” condition is guaranteed – 3 x A meaning:

    • Affordability

    • Availability

    • Accessibility

  • that they are safe and reliable,

  • that appropriate information and transparency is ensured,

  • that non-discrimination and non-marginalisation is guaranteed,

  • that self-determination and freedom of choices is possible.

This leads us to the conclusion that it is in no way sufficient to only claim the right and the possibility to have access to services and goods. Equally important are the quality and the adequateness of the process of getting access to them. They should, by all means, be responsive to the needs and capabilities of the individual – rather than satisfy the needs of the system or of the producers of services and goods.

What finally counts is the outcome – how much can they effectively respond to the needs of the individual or the group and how efficiently can they provide efficient support without being paternalizing.

Thank you very much for your kind attention! Dirk Jarré