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France has violated the rights of people with disabilities, rules Council of Europe

The Local France
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France has violated the rights of people with disabilities, rules Council of Europe
A disabled woman is pictured in her wheelchair at her flat in Paris on January 18, 2018. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

The Council of Europe ruled on Monday that France has violated multiple parts of the European Social Charter by failing to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities.

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The Council - an international organisation based in Strasbourg, with the goal of promoting democracy, human rights and rule of law - found that France has violated three parts of the European Social Charter, which outlines and guarantees several rights for people with disabilities.

Namely, France has failed in its duty to provide "access to social and financial assistance", "health services" and in the "accessibility of buildings and facilities".

The French state must improve with access to schooling, financial aid, care facilities for disabled people in France and the accessibility of housing and modes of transportation, the Council ruled.

The case was first brought to the Council 2018 by four disability rights organisations: UNAPEI, APF France Handicap, UNAFAM, and FNATH.

The Council noted that the French state had not adopted effective measures "within a reasonable period of time" to remedy persistent and long-standing problems related to the inclusion of children and young people with disabilities in mainstream schools.

This is an issue that has pushed many parents in France to move their families to Belgium, where they hoped they would find a better quality of care and education.

According to reporting by The Conversation, an estimated 8,233 French citizens with disabilities had moved to the Francophone region of southern Belgium in search of care facilities and more holistic education opportunities. The majority of families interviewed were parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.

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Many French parents reportedly perceive Belgian schools as placing "a greater emphasis on the educational aspects while the French system focuses more on the medical dimension and is therefore less efficient when it comes to stimulating children’s autonomy".

The Council also found that France had violated article 16 of the charter for "leaving many families in precarious conditions due to a "shortage of support services" and "a lack of accessibility of buildings and care facilities, as well as public transport".

In Paris, only one Metro line - Line 14 - offers end-to-end accessibility for people with reduced mobility. 

Several disability rights activists have expressed concern that the city will not be accessible enough by the summer of 2024, when it is set to host the Olympic and Paralympic Game.

The president of the disability rights group, APF France handicap, Pascale Ribes, penned an Op-Ed in the French weekly Journal du Dimanche, titled "Towards a disaster scenario for people with disabilities?" where she referenced several concerns about disability accessibility - from the number of wheelchair-friendly seats made available to crowding issues on public transport and potential issues with road closures and parking for private handicap-accessible vehicles. 

"It is up to public authorities to decide whether the 2024 Games will be the pride of France or its shame", Ribes wrote in January.

The Council of Europe's recent ruling is not the first time the international community has signalled that France has failed to adequately support people with disabilities. In 2021, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities published a report stating that "France has not yet integrated the human rights-based approach to disability".

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The decision came just ahead of a scheduled National Conference on Disability that will be held at France's Élysée Palace on April 26th.

France's Ministry for People with Disabilities told Radio France that the Council's decision will be "carefully read" ahead of the Conference.

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