Europe Mar 27, 2017
CYPRUS: The new national Action Plan for Disability, covering the period 2017-2020, is being drafted, Minister of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance Zeta Emilianidou has said.
In an interview with Cyprus News Agency, ahead of a high level meeting, taking place on Monday, in Nicosia, to launch the Council of Europe’s Disability Strategy 2017-2023, Emilianidou noted that the financial crisis had little impact on social benefits received by people with disabilities. It has, however, affected additional measures that have would benefited this group of people, the Minister concedes.
With the right policies, perceptions on people with disabilities are changing and they are deemed as equal members of society, Emilianidou says, noting that these issues “are high in the priorities of the Ministry and the government”.
According to Emilianidou, the new Council of Europe (CoE) Strategy on Disability aims to commit everybody to take more action in securing the rights and fundamental freedoms of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.
The conference, launching the new Strategy, on March 27 and 28, is hosted in the framework of the Cypriot Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. The Minister adds that the Strategy, titled “Human Rights: A reality for all” aims to foster the notion that the rights of people with disabilities are human rights.
She says that it lays emphasis on issues of equality, dignity and opportunity, safeguarding those peoples’ independence, freedom of choice and active participation in social life.
It also gives priority to matters such as equality before the law and protection from exploitation, violence and abuse and according to Zeta Emilianidou, it is based on the principles of universal design, cooperation and coordination at national and international level.
Nicosia had also a role to play in shaping the new Strategy, the Minister adds. In particular, she says that the Director of the Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities participated in the sessions of the relevant CoE expert Committee that formulated the Strategy, in consultation with other stakeholders.
Asked if the previous CoE action plan, covering the period between 2006 and 2015, brought results, Emiliaidou says it provided impetus for the 47 member states to proceed with their own action plans and implement additional measures for the disabled.
She adds that Cyprus drew up its first National Action Plan for Disability in July 2013, in the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it ratified in 2011, while taking also into consideration CoE and EU action plans. The new National Action Plan for 2017-2020 is now under preparation, the Minister says.
“Action Plans turn strategies and international conventions into deeds and provide a concrete, systematic, creative and participatory way on how to plan, coordinate and realize our actions, in order to achieve our intended aim” she adds.
On another question regarding changes in people’s perceptions, the Minister of Labour says that through the right policies, programs and actions, people with disabilities are supported and empowered to actively participate in all aspects of life as equal citizens.
“The presence of children and people with disabilities in education, the workplace, culture, entertainment, sports and society in general, as well as their practical contribution and utilization of their skills leads to a shift in perceptions regarding disability” says Emilianidou.
Speaking on the impact of the crisis, the Minister notes that social benefits were affected very little but many countries in Europe, as was the case in Cyprus, were hindered from taking more measures to benefit persons with disabilities.
Cyprus, she adds, takes stock of developments and participates in all European organizations regarding people with disabilities, learns from others’ best practices and also spreads its own best practices, as is the case with the new Disability Evaluation System. Three evaluation centers operate, on the basis of this system, where people with disabilities can get information about the social benefits and services they are entitled to.
The Minister of Labour also points to the appointment of a three-member Ministerial Committee by the Cabinet to promote certain measures with concrete timetables, such as the Center for Autism for preschoolers or building additional homes to support people with multiple disabilities.
Emilianidou cites finally a series of actions that are being promoted by several Ministries. She underlines actions for integrating people with disabilities in education and employment, giving incentives to employers to hire them and improving care services and accessibility.