Arts and cultural participation in all their forms are central to a person’s well-being and are often crucial to the support provided to persons with disabilities – in early childhood education, in education, in employment, in long-term care. There is however a clear lack of political ownership of arts and culture for persons with disabilities, which has led to a breakdown of cultural and artistic structures and support during the COVID-19 crisis. Now that countries are starting to re-open their economies, services must support persons with disabilities in their cultural participation, and authorities should reflect how they can facilitate access to arts, culture and leisure, in particular for those most at risk. In the long-term, arts and cultural participation of persons with disabilities need to be properly acknowledged in the future European Disability Strategy. It should also be recognized as a distinct responsibility of the broader cultural sector, working in collaboration with the disability sector.
As the UNESCO stated, “In times of crisis, we need culture to make us resilient, give us hope, remind us that we are not alone”. Promoted by article 30 of the UNCRPD, cultural participation of persons with disabilities has a demonstrated positive impact on their inclusion and well-being. When social, family and other support structures close down during a crisis, arts and culture can give individuals the strength to go on, and the capacity to connect with others. Arts and culture are also key to providing many innovative services, in particular in the field of early childhood intervention, but also for education, employment and long-term care. It is a truly horizontal issue, that can benefit persons with disabilities at all stages of life, fostering creative resilience to face challenges such as those posed by the current crisis. It is however often considered an issue of lower importance that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Accessibility to arts and culture activities is still very low, with few reasonable accommodations put in place. Furthermore, there is a lack of political ownership of the issue, with neither the cultural nor disability sector taking the initiative to develop more inclusive models.
In this regard, facilitating access to arts and culture during the progressive deconfinement measures will reinforce the other measures developed, and should be deployed at the same time. Service providers should preserve community partnerships with cultural centers and support persons with disabilities in accessing arts and culture, both for leisure and therapy. In parallel, public authorities should also support the progressive reopening of cultural centers and the development of innovative practices to support and include persons with disabilities.
This can only happen however with a clear political message, which is impossible without the cultural sector taking responsibility for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their activities. Service providers for persons with disabilities are ready to provide support and expertise, but inclusive cultural activities need to be mainstreamed in the general cultural sector to have the necessary widespread improvement in accessibility and change of mindset. This applies at the local, regional and national level, but also at the European level, where there is a lack of expertise and representation around arts and disability.
Even though arts and culture are largely a Member States competence, the EU has a role to play. The new European Disability Strategy must reflect these concerns. A clear reference to article 30 of the UNCRPD and cultural participation should be included, pushing for Member States to mainstream disability in their cultural policy programmes, and giving mandate to the Commission to take action to promote arts and culture for persons with disabilities. The Directorate-General on Education, Youth, Sport and Culture should in turn take the lead in developing a section dedicated to the cultural participation of persons with disabilities in its European Agenda for Culture and promote inclusion throughout the cultural projects they support.
In conclusion, EASPD urges the EU to:
- Include a clear reference to article 30 UNCRPD and cultural participation in the new European Disability Strategy currently in development
- Identify cultural participation of persons with disabilities as a clear responsibility of DG EAC and an objective of the European Agenda for Culture
- Support funding and innovation of services that facilitate access and participation in artistic and cultural activities for persons with disabilities
Support services for persons with disabilities will need to create new connections and find ways to benefit from the opportunities for innovation that represent arts and cultural participation; foster creative resilience to empower more inclusive community and more independent individuals.
Note to editors
The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organisation, established in 1996, and currently representing over 17,000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.
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