20 Sep 2023 at 05:00
In many municipalities, people with disabilities still receive far too little help to fully participate in society. This inequality is persistent, according to a tour by NU.nl of supervisors, researchers and experts.
A father with acquired brain damage needed an extra battery for his electric tricycle paid for by the municipality. Otherwise he would not be able to take his son to school and back, he tells NU.nl. But his congregation refused. “We have this and you have to make do with this,” he was told.
A woman with a disability has even been encountering municipal bureaucracy for years. “Six years ago I had to wait a year for a wheelchair that would allow me to leave the house independently,” she says.
And even after a year of waiting, it almost came to an end. The municipality informed her that the wheelchair was too expensive. “But after I complained on social media and a senior official from the Ministry of Health got involved, I had that wheelchair at home within a week.”
The fear of the complicated municipal procedures had become so great that she paid a care provider out of her own pocket last year to care for her child. As a result, her savings ran out.
Progress is too minimal and too slow
Research has confirmed for years that such examples are not isolated. The fact that too little has changed is once again evident this year from the research that the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) carries out annually.
The outcome of this poll conducted by knowledge institute Movisie among 200 of the 342 municipalities will be shared in October, but project leader Caroline Harnacke confirms to NU.nl that there is again little improvement. “It’s going far too slowly. More and more municipalities are taking action, but not all of them. There is little difference compared to last year.”
So there is some progress, but it is too minimal and too slow. That image has actually been emerging since 2018. In that year, the VNG decided to conduct annual research into whether municipalities adhere to the UN Handicap Convention signed by the Netherlands in 2016. It has been agreed that governments will ensure that chronically ill people and people with disabilities can participate equally in society. In the Netherlands this is about two million people.
“Municipalities are creating significant barriers for parents with disabilities,” sighs Everyone. For example, the interest group points out the (too) high burden of proof when requesting help from the municipality, but also says that people are wrongly referred back to their own network for help.
A parent in a wheelchair and a child together in the kitchen. Photo: Getty Images
The municipality came with a chair instead of a stool
Everyone was shocked by the results of their own recent survey among people with disabilities. For example, one participant requested a stool to wash himself. “But the municipality came with a triple chair, from their standard range. It was unsuitable for me. And also ten times more expensive.”
According to Elke(in), it sometimes even comes down to opposition by municipal officials. Although this is not always conscious. “But people with disabilities are the victims.”
What has been the same in VNG research for years: there are major differences between municipalities. Everyone sees that too. “It now depends too much on where you live as to how well you are supported.”
Proactive Lelystad has been setting a good example for years
A municipality that is proactive is Lelystad. The capital of Flevoland developed the Living Together, Doing Together plan together with residents with disabilities in 2014. The city council saw – two years before it actually happened – that their inclusion would become a mandatory municipal task.
Moreover, the city passed a test with a mystery guest at the beginning of July this year with flying colors. “I commend the staff of the municipality of Lelystad and the tested stores in the center of Lelystad,” said this actor.
The problem is that there are no consequences
The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights is the party that checks whether people with disabilities are given the same opportunities as people without disabilities. The independent supervisor also notes that municipalities are not making enough efforts. “We’ve been saying that for years,” says a spokesperson. “We also want it to go faster.”
The biggest problem seems to be the fact that in the Netherlands there is no punishment if the mandatory policy is not in order. That is different in many other countries. For example, in France, companies with more than twenty employees are required to employ employees with disabilities: at least 6 percent. If they do not achieve this percentage, the government will issue a fine. French stores where the cash registers are not accessible to people with disabilities will also be fined.
In the Netherlands, construction companies still get away with building houses that are not accessible to everyone. In many other European countries, construction may not even begin if accessibility is not included in the construction plan.
Without consequences, little will change, notes researcher José Smits on behalf of the Dutch Inclusion Association. “Dutch municipalities can therefore afford to delay assistance to people with disabilities.”
Afran Groenewoud is a society and inclusion reporter
Afran writes about inequality in society and colonial history. Read more stories from Afran here.