The UK referendum has stunned the world. Inclusion Europe, itself an expression of the belief in international cooperation, has to ask what this means for our movement and for the current and future generations of persons with intellectual disabilities and their families.
Our founding principles are respect, solidarity and inclusion. They are the touchstones for how we should react. Inclusion Europe is a Europe-wide association, with existing members in 39 countries and welcoming applications from new members in the other countries.
Solidarity and the value of uniting in a common cause are even more necessary as the formal governmental structures for coordination are pulled apart. The Brexit will mean change, some of which we can’t predict. As a separation is negotiated, the gains we have made in securing the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities in Europe must be maintained. We need to ensure that Europe as a whole continues to address its specific rights and inclusion issues, such as segregation and institutionalisation. Our aspiration to make this region the beacon for the world in disability rights and support should not be set back.
Two things have stood out in this momentous week.
Self-advocates, family members and professional colleagues from the UK have been in touch to express their personal sense of loss, their loyalty to Inclusion Europe and seeking reassurance about continued cooperation and maintaining their contact with friends and colleagues across Europe.
The European Disability Forum is planning to coordinate European NGOs alongside their UK members to ensure that persons with disabilities have a voice that will be heard in the intergovernmental negotiations. At national level, in all member states, the message that persons with disabilities should not suffer from the uncertainty and changes in formal relations must be reinforced.
The referendum campaign was bitter and divisive. We have a role to play in countering the negative fall-out from that with compelling examples of how differences can be accommodated and the personal and social gains that flow from that. We can be an example to wider society in respect, solidarity and inclusion.
Inclusion Europe President