As full citizens, people with disabilities have equal rights and are entitled to dignity, equal treatment, independent living and full participation in society. Enabling people with disabilities to enjoy these rights is the main purpose of the European Union's long-term strategy for their active inclusion.
Legislating equal opportunities for people with disabilities is the responsibility of national governments but promoting and protecting the rights of disabled people should, I believe, be engrained in the fabric of our work as European legislators.
The centre piece of Europe's disability strategy is its Disability Action Plan (DAP) that has as its objective "to make equal opportunities for disabled people a reality" and aims to see improvements in employment prospects, accessibility and independent living. Disabled people are involved in the process on the basis of the European principle: 'Nothing about disabled people without disabled people'.
The European Commission will set out a new European Disability Strategy for the period 2010-2020 in the autumn.
In Ireland, I have expressed concern that people with disabilities are being disproportionately hit by Government spending cuts. The Government's National Disability Strategy is unravelling with cutbacks in funding and services and the non-implementation of planned services, particularly within the HSE. It is sometimes the case that services denied, particularly health services, cost the exchequer more in the long run. I would caution against blanket cuts that might ending costing more in the longer term.
Locally, I support the work of the Irish Wheelchair Association, Downs Syndrome Ireland and SNAP (Special Needs Active Parents). The lack of real progress in many of these areas is one of the frustrations of politics - it is so hard to translate political statements from Government into delivery of appropriate services to people who need them.
I have visited Romania and witnessed the situation for children and young adults with intellectual disabilities living in state run institutions. I support the policy of deinstitutionalisation and would like to see it implemented across the whole of the EU. But here too, progress is far too slow.
I support agencies that work on the ground in EU countries to achieve deinstitutionalisation by raising the issue of deinstitutionalisation in the European Parliament and other fora whenever possible. I have facilitated meetings between agencies and EU decision makers and I am encouraged by the progress, albeit slow, in this area.