A ROAD TRIP TO PORTUGAL
For EASPD, everything started with a road trip; a 2,500 km, 30 hour, all day, all night drive from northern Europe to attend a conference on the transition from education to employment for persons with disabilities in Portugal. This was how it was in those days for our sector: a relatively unstructured and amateurish approach to cooperation between service providers throughout Europe.
These road trips might have resulted in some epic stories, but they were not suitable to achieve our sector’s growing needs and objectives. It was based on this understanding and having only just recovered from the 30 hour drive that various delegations began to talk about creating a European platform, which would help to structure our sector at European level. This was in 1994.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION: "GET ORGANISED"!
In 1995, following a rather difficult meeting with a top European Commission representative, our Secretary General Luk Zelderloo asked the official why it was so difficult for them to understand what service providers wanted. The response might have appeared rude at the time, yet the official was right when he told us to “get organised and come back”.
That is precisely what we did! Following year-long discussions, 5 partners formally established EASPD in 1996. However, we had to wait a further 3 years for our first membership boom. This critical mass in terms of membership allowed us to improve our relationship with the European institutions and start to have a political voice in Europe.
Nevertheless, EASPD had to linger until 2001 to get a first member of staff, working as administrative support for only 4 hours a week.
In 2005, EASPD continued to grow and opened up its membership basis to service providers coming from the 47 Council of Europe member countries, in addition to the sole European Union countries. The same year, we became fully professionalised, opening up an office in Brussels with Luk Zelderloo being introduced as Secretary General, a position he still holds today.
IMPORTANCE OF UN CONVENTION
2006 marked a key transition in our work in Brussels as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provided us and the European institutions with much clearer guidance regarding the direction to take in terms of access to human rights for persons with disabilities. The UN CRPD provided answers and brought up new standards in terms of how society should support persons with disabilities.
The Convention's principles and philosophy forms the background and legal framework on which EASPD bases its work in Brussels. Indeed, the logic behind the UN CRPD that it is necessary to bring social services to the persons with disabilities, rather than the other way round, fully supports what we have been trying to do and explain over the past years. Now that it is written on paper, it is necessary for EASPD – as the voice of over 12,000 service providers for persons with disabilities - to work with the relevant European institutions to ensure that this logic is fully implemented throughout Europe.
Thus, for example, the fact that we have very little direct involvement in the European disability framework body - which monitors the implementation of the UN CRPD - demonstrates that the European institutions have yet to fully understand the important role service providers play in supporting persons with disabilities. As of late, improvements have been made and we are now currently lobbying with the European Commission for a stronger role in the implementation of the European Disability Strategy and the Framework monitoring the UN CRPD.
MORE WORK TO DO!
Nevertheless, despite the obvious progress shown since our road trip days, this missed opportunity only goes to show that there is a lot more work for EASPD to do. It is under these circumstances that we hope to grow as an organisation and contribute more to European policy developments in areas of interest to us.
We believe that we have the experience and know-how that will allow us to constructively influence European policy-making and, consequently, improve the lives of the 80 million European citizens with disabilities, as well as their friends and families.
To see EASPD history and key milestones, click here.
1996 - 1997 Marie-Claire Rens of F.I.S.S.A.A.J in Belgium
1997 - 1999 Roger Acton Director of Disability Federation Ireland
1999 - 2005 Luk Zelderloo of Tau-groep in Belgium
2005 - 2008 Brian O'Donnell CEO of the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies from Ireland
2008 - 2016 Franz Wolfmayr President of Steierische Behindertenhilfe Dachverband from Austria
2016 James Crowe, Director of Learning Disability Wales in the UK