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Disability policy

May 4, 2010

'No person shall be disfavoured because of disability'

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'No person shall be disfavoured because of disability'. This anti-discrimination provision is contained in Article 3 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Equality and promotion of equal opportunities to enable self-determined participation in society by people who are disabled or at risk of becoming disabled are therefore central to German government disability policy.

As an individual basic right, the anti-discrimination provision directly binds lawmakers and public agencies involved in applying the law not only in central government, but also at Länder and municipal level and in other public institutions and organisations. Legal relationships among private entities and individuals are also indirectly subject to the provision because it must be complied with in the interpretation and application of German civil law.

A legal framework to implement the anti-discrimination provision and improve opportunities for people with disabilities to participate and be integrated in society was created by Book IX of the Social Code 'Integration and Rehabilitation of Disabled People (SGB IX, 2001)' and the Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (BGG, 2002). SGB IX consolidated and built upon the previously fragmented body of law relating to the rehabilitation and integration of people with disabilities and the law concerning severe disabilities. It follows the basic principle of empowering those who have a disability or are at risk of becoming disabled to conduct their own affairs as independently as possible and on their own responsibility, replacing the earlier main focus on caring and providing for people with disabilities. The Act on Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities implements the right to equal treatment laid down by the German Basic Law, governs the elimination of barriers, recognises German sign language and manually coded languages for the deaf and hard of hearing, and acknowledges the right to use these and other suitable forms of communication.

The paradigm shift in German disability policy introduced primarily with Book IX of the Social Code and the Act on Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities was taken further by the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG). Book IX of the Social Code provides far-reaching workplace protection for people with severe disabilities, while the General Equal Treatment Act extends this protection to all people with disabilities. It covers all areas of working life, from recruitment selection to access to further education and training to promotion opportunities. In everyday life, the Act combats discrimination in consumer transactions, e.g. purchase agreements and hotel reservations, and prohibits discrimination in private insurance matters.

The German government's national policies have their international counterpart in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Germany signed the UN Convention and its Optional Protocol on 30 March 2007 and was one of the first countries to do so. Having put the legal conditions in place by means of a ratification law on 1 January 2009, Germany deposited the instrument of ratification in New York on 24 February 2009. The Convention and the Optional Protocol have been binding in Germany since 26 March 2009. The Convention is the first universal instrument of law to be tailored to the situation of the over 600 million people with disabilities around the world, defining the social standards by which signatory state policies and actions will be measured in future, and thus hailing social change. This change is guided by a set of clear goals and objectives: self-determined participation in society and the elimination of barriers to equal opportunities. At individual level, the aim is to empower all people to lead their lives in accordance with their needs and wishes. In terms of policy, focus is on the legitimate interests and the rights of people who are disabled or at risk of becoming disabled.