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Germany

Disabled Matters Off the Radar in Campaign

With the economy and jobs featuring large in party platforms this election season, many issues get scant attention. But, the German Disability Council is trying to make sure politicians hear their demands.

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Critics say existing laws for the disabled often aren't implemented

Some eight million handicapped and chronically ill people live in Germany, according to estimates by the German Disability Council (DBR).

Though the country's constitutional law explicitly states that no one should be discriminated due to his or her disability and numerous laws guarantee the rights of handicapped persons, reality is often quite different.

"There's simply a lack of implementation (of laws)," said Brigitte Pathe, a spokeswoman for DBR. As an example she pointed to the already over-squeezed labor market where disabled persons hardly stand a chance.

"We've found that the readiness of companies to train young handicapped people has dramatically fallen," Pathe added.

Disabled still face discrimination

According to the DBR, even the Federal Labor Agency hasn't done much to promote the professional training of disabled persons. Christoph Nachtigäller of the DBR said he wanted a new government to do much more and also ensure that an antidiscrimination law -- that political parties failed to agree on this year -- finally takes shape.

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"Disabled persons are still discriminated against when it comes to taking out insurance policies or entering bars, restaurants and even doctors' offices," Nachtigäller said. "We have clear inequality and discrimination -- it's catastrophic."

Equality in everyday life and a better integration into the labor market -- those are just two of a whole catalogue of demands that the DBR has sent around to all the political parties as campaigning heats up for federal elections scheduled for Sept. 18.

Too much focus on the economy

Nachtigäller said that it's the new Left Party, an alliance of former East German communists and disgruntled members of the Social Democrats in Western Germany, which has undermined traditional left-wing support for the ruling Social Democrats (SPD), which has been the most receptive thus far.

"The Left Party does agree to all the demands," he said. "It's very nice as long as its ideology goes, but we can hardly count on it to have a real chance of getting into the government."

Though the rest of the parties are sympathetic to the demands to improve conditions for disabled persons, most seem to have problems enshrining those into law.

But, according to the DBR, it's the excessive focus on the economy and the creation of jobs during this election campaign by all parties that has left little room for social problems.

"This is clearly an economics-oriented campaign and social issues have a low priority," Nachtigäller said. "That's very regrettable."

According to the DBR, in international comparisons, Germany has done a lot for the needs of disabled persons -- but still has a long way to go.

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