On Thursday the 9th of May 1996, The European Charter of Rights for Persons with Autism was signed by 331 Members of the European Parliament, and passed by the European Parliament. The Charter, co-authored by Executive Director of the Irish Society for Autism Dr. Pat Matthews, aimed to have far reaching consequences on the quality of life for children & adults with Autism across Europe. The Charter states that people with Autism should have the same rights as enjoyed by all EU citizens, where such be appropriate and in the best interest of the person with Autism, and that these rights should be enhanced and enforced by appropriate legislation in each member state.
The long road to recognition, the story of the Charter…
The Charter of Rights for Persons with Autism as put forward by Autism Europe, took many years of effort, debate, discussion and lobbying to bring about its approval after its first draft was proposed in 1989. After much deliberation as to what should be included, Executive Director Dr. Pat Matthews and Professor Paul Shattock were entrusted by Autism Europe with the task of writing the Charter and the Schedules to the Charter. The Charter was then presented at the Congress of Autism Europe in The Hague in 1992, where all member countries ratified and approved its 19 points.
It was then decided that for the Charter to have any relevance and credibility, it must have political approval. It was felt that the only way to achieve this, was to have a specific declaration approved by the majority of the European Parliament.
Once this had been decided, the next step was to convince the European Parliament of the legitimacy and necessity of the Charter. Knowing that the Charter required all party support to succeed, many meetings were held with various members of the Parliament such as the All-Party Disability Group, and in particular its Chairperson Barbara Schmidbauer (MEP from Germany) and Vice Chairperson Mary Banotti (MEP from Ireland).
At a Bureau meeting of Autism Europe in 1995, it was decided to move with a sense of urgency and purpose to have the Charter approved by May 1996, in time for the Autism Europe Congress in Barcelona.
After a series of meetings and with the assistance of Diana Sutton from the Secretariat of the All Party Disability group, the Declaration was drafted, and Mary Banotti agreed to be its sponsor.
The Declaration outlined in 200 words the situation in Europe for People with Autism and their need for protection. Dr. Pat Matthews was then invited to present the Charter at a Disability Intergroup Meeting held in Strasbourg on the 18th of January 1996. This was followed by a comprehensive campaign of lobbying, contacting member countries, enlisting their support and providing them with a list of MEP’s in their respective countries.
Autism Europe sent letters to each MEP seeking their support and monitored the number of signatures of approval they received, which was then fed back to each country organiser. Finally when it looked as if the Declaration might fail 13 signatures short of the 314 required, a two day extension was received.
Mary Banotti put these two extra days to very good use, and persuaded more of her colleagues that this Declaration was well worth signing. Her own commitment ensured that the Declaration was approved, and was signed by a total of 331 members of the European Parliament. On Thursday the 9th of May 1996, it was passed by the President of the European Parliament.