Summer seems to have arrived, but this year the terraces in Brussels are emptier than usual and there are less tourists snapping photos of popular landmarks. This unusual summer follows on from what have been the most unusual last few months. Most of us have never experienced something like this in our lives. Weeks of being confined to the indoors and not being able to see family and friends, but even more importantly global suffering spread across media channels every day. It is impossible to look back at the first half of 2020 without mentioning COVID-19, the invisible force that has brought the world to a standstill. Whilst it may have appeared that everything had stopped, the support services sector was instead in overdrive trying to maintain the essential support that so many Europeans depend on. As the voice of support service providers for persons with support needs in Europe, EASPD has worked harder than ever these last months to ensure that support and social care services gain full recognition for the vital role they play in society, during this pandemic and always. We worked to highlight the urgency for an appropriate EU response to the crisis. We wrote to the EU institutions and provided hard facts on the situation support services were and still are facing because of COVID-19. This led to meetings with high level EU officials and a dedicated ‘help-desk’ webinar hosted by the European Commission. More recently we joined forces with organisations representing all types of services in the social sector for a campaign which stressed, #SocialServicesAreEssentialServices. The highlight of the campaign was our online Social Summit event “Social services and COVID-19: what role for EU?” which brought together those working in the sector and living the situation on the ground and policy makers and academics. Read the joint position paper agreed by the entire social services sector here.
As well as representing our members and the urgent needs of the sector at EU level we have made sure to support them in any way possible. Through social media support groups, a help desk and weekly COVID-19 related webinars we listened, connected and learned from each other. Although the pandemic has made physical events no longer an option, we still found ways to meet…safely online. We analysed the barriers and training needs of legal practitioners to ensure full access to justice for persons with disabilities and also discussed supported decision making in the framework of the I DECIDE project. Our spring conference ´Road to Employment for Persons with Disabilities´ was supposed to take place in the city of lights. Although we couldn’t be together in Paris and enjoy a boat ride across the river, we organised a two-day online programme that explored and identified how we can work to promote the inclusive employment for persons with disabilities. Technology meant we reached hundreds of people across Europe and even further across the globe. Winners of our ‘Employment For All’ award were still announced and congratulated, even if the online format meant it was done in a slightly less glamorous way then we hoped! Read our top 6 practices on inclusive employment here and prepare to be inspired.
Research and innovation have always been important pillars of EASPD’s work and are even more crucial in current times. In early March, EASPD hosted the fourth EURECO (European research platform for inclusive community planning and service development for people with disabilities) forum about how we can achieve inclusive healthcare services for persons with disabilities. EASPD will continue to prioritise new research and close ties to researcher networks. If you haven’t already, be sure to add our recent reports to your summer reading list.
As we move into the second half of the year, the first months of 2020 have taught us that it is impossible to predict where we will be a few months from now. But at EASPD our vision is clear. At the centre of EASPD’s success is our members who are the focus of everything that we do. With our new statutes and important changes to the governance of the organisation, including elections this October, we feel well equipped for the future ahead. We know that our sector like the rest of the globe, is now in unchartered territory and experiencing very challenging times. 2020 has already been a busy to say the least, but we are ready to keep on supporting our members the way we know how. Together we will get through this.