As we celebrate Europe Day, it’s important to remember the fundamental values of our continent: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. These values must apply to everyone, including those with intellectual disabilities. In honour of this occasion, Valueable Network has spoken with Cora Halder – former President of the European Down Syndrome Association (EDSA) from 2008 to 2014, and current EDSA Board member. She has been a long-standing supporter of the Valueable project and now shares her insights on the importance of inclusion and the challenges that still exist.

Cora’s interest in the disability field began when her daughter was born with Down syndrome in 1985. Mrs Halder’s professional background up to that point was as a special pedagogue, having worked as an educator in Switzerland, Germany and New Zealand. At the time of her daughter’s birth, there was not much knowledge or support for families with children with disabilities in Germany. Hence, Cora set up a parents’ organisation: the German Down Syndrome Information Centre. Being the leader for many years, she helped raise awareness and inform parents through publications, seminars, lectures, working with the press and universities.

According to Mrs Halder, “inclusion starts with school”. If children with Down syndrome are not included in regular schools, they will not be used to being around people without disabilities. This will make it difficult for them to switch from the ‘special world’ to the ‘normal world’ later in life, but also reduce the chances of their acceptance as full members of society by other people who have not been exposed at all to persons with disabilities. 

Today, regrettably, “inclusion in the job world remains a major challenge”. In Germany and many other European countries, only a very low percentage of persons with intellectual disabilities are included in the ‘first job market’. When companies employ a more diverse workforce it is because of the legally mandated quota systems rather than genuine willingness to commit to inclusion. Most times employers prefer to pay a tax than to employ someone with a disability, or prefer those with physical impairments to those with cognitive ones. 

Cora also spoke about the importance of promoting inclusion through multilateral European channels. EDSA brings together different organisations from different countries that can learn from each other, share best practices and import positive models to follow in their own country. Yet, Mrs Halder was very clear: “EDSA cannot change the system alone”. Disability organisations need to continue advocacy, drive protests, and push for change in policies.

The laws are there, but the implementation is lacking. There is a discrepancy amongst the enforcement of relevant legal provisions across EU member states. For Mrs Halder, whereas Italy and Spain are the leading most advanced examples in safeguarding disability rights, Belgium has the lowest inclusion in Europe. She points to the widespread culture of ‘special schools’ in many northern European countries, which is difficult to eradicate. Nonetheless, She notes that Austria has indeed closed most of its ‘special schools’, so progress is slow but possible. 

Cora’s daughter now lives in her own flat, and they are in frequent contact. Cora believes that we need to focus on inclusion to make a better future for everyone, not just persons with disabilities themselves. With organisations like EDSA and the German Down Syndrome Information Centre, we can learn from each other and drive change.

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