Lawmakers and Lawbreakers Concerning the Treatment of People with Disability: The New Legal Culture and Best Practices Against Discrimination-A Lecture by Dr. Bernidaki-Aldous
Dr. Eleftheria Bernidaki-Aldous, Professor III of Classics at DEREE, is a former member of Parliament State-Wide, and serves as Senior Advisor of Diversity and Equal Opportunity at The American College of Greece.
On Thursday, December 3, in celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Dr. Bernidaki-Aldous gave a lecture on crucial aspects of the inclusion of persons with disabilities to society. The lecture was well-attended by alumni, students, staff, and faculty, including Dr. David Horner, President of The American College of Greece, in show of their support for the full inclusion of persons of all abilities in our society.
By Dr. Eleftheria Bernidaki-Aldous:
My lecture at ACG in honor of the UN International Day of People with Disability, aimed at shedding light on developments in Greece and the EU regarding accessibility of people with disability to all aspects of life (e.g., health, education, employment); monitoring the application of the legislation which derives from the UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability) during the time of economic crisis. The theme of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3 2015) was: “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”. In its effort to establish a “legacy” and to bring about “lasting change” for the Greek society (following the mandate of the UN for this day), The American College of Greece under the guidance of President Horner asked me to contribute to this cause by sharing some of my knowledge and experience on this issue.
The UNCRPD (especially articles 5 “Equality and non-Discrimination”, 8 “Awareness-Raising” and 29 “Participation in Social and Political Life”) must be implemented by all countries that have ratified it with its optional protocol. The ratification of this treaty by the EU was greeted as the first intergovernmental group to join this “major international treaty on disability rights” (as Human Rights Watch announced on December 30, 2010).
The Hellenic Parliament voted for and ratified the UNCRPD and its related Protocols (law 4074/2012), thus Greece also must legislate according to the principles and mandates of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Both legislation and guidelines of the EU as well as the UNCRPD, make it mandatory for Greece to legislate and establish policies that would not discriminate against people with disabilities.
Many years have passed since the voting of the UNCRPD by the UN (2006) and its ratification by the EU and its Member States, including Greece. Luckily, the international law and laws of Member States of the EU recognize the “human rights” and “legal rights” of persons and citizens with disabilities. What is needed urgently is the “implementation” of these laws. This December 3 celebration of the “rights of persons with disabilities” was seen as an opportunity for a “Call to Action”. The organizations of the disability movement in Greece, in Europe and in the United Nations call for the “implementation” of all laws that would help reduce “discrimination” and would allow for the much-desired goal of “inclusion”. We must move from theory to practice, as the world community has moved from a philosophy and attitudes of charity to the new “legal culture” of “human rights”, regarding persons with disabilities.
Therefore, I must confess that my purpose in this speech was not simply to give some information on issues of “equal opportunity” (in the important areas of education, employment, access to social and political life), but to generate true interest in a topic that is not covered by the media enough or appropriately, that is, the issue of “discrimination against people with disabilities”. The harmful consequences on persons with disabilities, which derive from negative attitudes and ignorance, are too many and too serious that they cannot, should not, be ignored. Disability gives rise to conflicting emotions and actions. It gives rise to the deepest compassion (sympaschein) and to the most alarming and unjustifiable fears, even disgust and abhorrence. The main cause for discrimination is ignorance. Such negative feelings, attitudes and even actions against persons with disabilities, are generated from ignorance of the true condition of each disability. Lack of familiarity with people with disabilities (e.g., blind, deaf, mental or mobility disabilities), lack of knowledge of the many abilities and talents that are present in spite of disability, give rise to bias and prejudice. True knowledge of important facts, acquaintance and familiarity with persons with disabilities, may fight ignorance (the source of all evils): fears, prejudice, discrimination. It is only through learning more of what it is to live with a disability that will make society more open and inclusive. Decision-makers of all kinds (politicians, legislators, parents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, colleagues, doctors, even lawyers and institutions of higher learning), all will be more willing to accommodate and accept as equal a person with disability. Needless to say that it is prejudice and discrimination which place barriers and prevent “equal opportunity”, or better, some fair chance to life, from persons who are different because of some disability.
We must become familiar with new ideas and legal terms, with many related organizations, institutions and agencies, such as the following:
- The “European Disability Strategy 2010-2020” (and its revisions) and its relation to the “European Commission: Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities” is such an example.
- The “EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”, which recognizes “the rights of persons with disabilities”, for independence, social and professional integration and for participation in the life of the community.
- The ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act), which inspired the UNCRPD and the ensuing EU legislation and guidelines.
- The EDF (European Disability Forum), the IDA (International Disability Alliance), as well as the Greek National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities, all organizations advocating and monitoring developments concerning the “rights” of persons with disabilities.
In spite of the obstacles of the global economic crisis (which has slowed down the process), there has been progress in the national and international community, politics and legislation regarding disability, with emphasis on a culture and practice of “legal” and “human” rights. The most important goal is to end or reduce discrimination. “Equal opportunity” and “inclusion” to all aspects of social life, can be achieved by “affirmative action”, “reasonable accommodations” in the work place and the educational process. “Mainstreaming” in education (from kindergarten through universities) is now the goal. Information is the key to fighting ignorance and “action” is necessary to “implement” the laws that derive from a new legal culture, which advocates the obvious: the “human rights” and “legal rights” of people with disabilities are the same as those of all people.