Strasbourg, France - This week, more than 300 disabled people and their personal assistants from over twenty European countries are gathering in Strasbourg for the 5th Freedom Drive. This is a biennial event organised by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), and provides an opportunity for people with disabilities to meet with Members of the European Parliament and discuss the key issues of the Independent Living movement. 'Free Our People Now!', the main theme of the Freedom Drive, refers to disabled people being able to live independently, with support, and asks for an end to segregation of disabled people, be it in their homes or in long-stay institutions.
Among this year's Freedom Drive demands is the call for Independent Living to become central in all relevant EU policies, and for a swift implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Equally important is the call for closure of all long-stay residential institutions by 2020 and the development of universal community-based services. Personal assistance as the right for all those who need it and the right to freedom of movement for people with disabilities in the EU are another two demands.
These, and other demands, will be presented by the Freedom Drivers at the meeting with the Disability Intergroup at the European Parliament on 15 September. The day before, on 14 September, Freedom Drivers from countries including Bulgaria, Sweden, Spain, Latvia and Ireland will march through Strasbourg carrying banners in order to raise awareness about the situation of people with disabilities in Europe. The Freedom Drive will close with a planning meeting of the European Action against cuts in public spending, an issue which is high on this year's agenda.
Whereas many disabled people are locked away in institutions or unable to leave their homes, because of lack of support or accessibility, the Freedom Drive provides a chance for Independent Living activists to remind the politicians about these and other problems faced by disabled people all over Europe and their responsibilities to them, as European citizens. In a unique event which brings grassroots activists to the European institutions, they are speaking up for thousands of others unable to make it to Strasbourg.