related issues

Breaking down barriers - working together for a better Europe

  • mobility

Together with the cities of Lisbon and Berlin, we organised a conference on accessibility in Lisbon on 18-19 June.

‘Cities for accessibility, jobs and inclusion – breaking down barriers together’ took place on 18-19 June in Lisbon’s historic town hall. It gathered over 100 participants from across Europe: EU policy makers, national, regional and local authority members, and representatives from civil society, research and academia.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, João Carlos Alfonso, deputy mayor of Lisbon for social rights, said: “Accessibility is a human right. Breaking down barriers means working together for a better Europe.”

The event explored the role of cities in making Europe an accessible place, and the consequences for employment, social inclusion and active ageing. The conference began with a look into the progress of the implementation of the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities in the EU and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. In both cases, much has been achieved and much remains to be done in this area, especially given that evidence clearly demonstrates that poverty is correlated with disability, which is linked with barriers to participating in the labour market.

The cities of Paris, Berlin, Ljubljana, Oslo, and Lisbon showcased their concrete and comprehensive approaches to accessibility. High political commitment was identified as one of the main success factors behind cities’ ability to make progress in this area. “There is no accessibility agenda without disability culture,” said Bernard Jomier, deputy mayor of Paris. He highlighted the need for mainstreaming, joint responsibility and common understanding among all political and technical policy makers, at all levels of governance.

"Every clear announcement at the train station, every dropped curb brings us closer to inclusion,” said Hella Dunger-Löper, permanent secretary for the State of Berlin Delegate to the Federation, when presenting the empowerment and networking efforts to make her city more accessible.

A panel on ‘Accessibility – a challenge and a chance for Europe’ underlined the urgency of the issue in view of ageing societies across the EU and high exclusion of people with disabilities. It focused in particular on the need for more accessible housing as the basis for inclusive societies and highlighted that, despite the fact that making new buildings accessible comes with a negligible cost, inaccessible infrastructure is still being built across Europe. The panel also stressed that accessibility doesn’t just imply a cost but can have a positive economic impact, citing evidence from a study on accessible tourism in Germany.

The two day conference culminated in a panel debate with EU and city politicians and officials. Panelists included: Elīna Celmiņa, representing the Latvian EU presidency; Sofia Lourenço, from the unit for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the European Commission; João Carlos Alfonso, deputy mayor of Lisbon; Thomas Fabian, deputy mayor of Leipzig and chair of our social affairs forum; Lisa Trickett, cabinet member for Birmingham focusing on a green, smart and sustainable city and vice chair of our mobility forum; and Anna Lisa Boni, EUROCITIES secretary general.

Without using PowerPoint presentations or depending on pre-prepared speeches, the panel was invited to reflect on what Europe needs to become more accessible. This was followed by an exchange with the audience. The need for favourable fiscal and legal frameworks and a systematic approach to urban development were among the recommendations. “In these times us, city politicians, must show courage and integrity," said Councilor Trickett.

Recording of the conference can be found on YouTube at the following links:

Part 1:

Part 2: