The European Disability Forum (EDF), and its partners -Leeds and Maastricht Universities- organised a seminar in June to identify next collaborative opportunities between Disabled People Organisations (DPOs) and academic researchers over the project “European Research Agendas for Disability Equality” (EuRADE).

For the first time in the history of disability, DPOs worked together with the key stakeholders in academic research including researchers from European Universities, research policy-makers, funders, and promoters showing interest for disability research and collaboration. As Yannis Vardakastanis, President of EDF stressed out: “This unique cooperation between NGOs and the academic community enabled DPOs to identify their own research priorities to gain knowledge about research methods and communicating their ideas to demonstrate their capacity to participate in research, and at initiating new research collaboration in Europe. The UN convention already set the paradigm shift from medical to a social approach. This must be translated in a new approach to research.”

The seminar was attended by a mixed representation of the field, half coming from the research area and half coming from DPOs. “This collaboration in research enabled a lot of great achievements” said Erzsebet Szollosi, Vice President of EDF. She underlined:”Together, we established a European research agenda, we increased the capacity of Persons With Disability (PWD) to be engaged as equal partners in research, we learnt from each others about disability perspective in research priority, and we set up tremendous contacts between researchers and the disability movements.”

The EuRADE project also allowed the identification of key perspectives in research on disability equality:
• Access to research: research must be accessible to PWD such as students with disabilities, researchers and teachers
• Inclusive education: a strong need for wider interdisciplinary collaborations is to be underlined
• Equal recognition before the law: a central area that still remains unexplored in the human rights field
• Reasonable accommodation: its understanding, enforcement at national level, and practical implementation have to be included in the area of non discrimination
• Independent living: the need to shift from institutions to community based living environments should be developed as well as the information and communication systems designed for all
• Accessibility of transport systems and the built environment: although already set on the political agenda, this key issue requires further engagement of researcher and developers

Representatives from the European Commission, and all the project participants debated the best way to match these key perspectives with the science and humanities work programme. PWD explained they still face too many obstacles to efficiently set disability issues in the European research agenda. “Mainly because disability equality issues are not reflected in the European Commission’s work programme” explained a researcher with disability. Philippe Keraudren, Deputy Head of Unit Research, answered: “The bridge of conservatism in social sciences won’t be crossed easily, but the European Commission is trying to provide relevant tools to tackle this problem. EuRADE is a very good example in that respect as it mentions disability as a cross-cutting issue in research, linked to major societal trends such as employment, ageing and health. A new programme, funded accordingly will consequently be dedicated to disability.”

Mark Priestley, professor of Disability Policy at University of Leeds, highlighted the academic perspective: “We need a stronger collaboration with DPOs, we have to think how to maximize their involvement”. Lisa Waddington, Professor and EDF Chair in European Disability Law from Maastricht University concluded “The great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge shared in EuRADE still have to be supported by the Commission: both academics and DPOs have the desire to go ahead.”

More about the project can be found here.