A key measure of a society’s degree of development is the way it relates to its citizens with disabilities and the way it takes into account their interests and points of view.

According to the data of the 2001 census, 577,000 persons with disabilities live in Hungary (5.7% of the population). Nevertheless, experts estimate and international data indicate that as a rule approximately 10% of the total population have some kind of disability; consequently, it is probable that the actual number of persons with disabilities is close to 1 million in Hungary.

With regard to the demographic composition of this group, it is to be noted that the majority of them are elderly persons, as most persons are not born with disabilities but become disabled as they grow older, due to diseases or accidents. 44.8% of people with disabilities are more than 60 years old, while 17% were born with their disabilities.

With regard to human rights, the key international document is undoubtedly the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Hungary was among the first countries to ratify the document. The Convention brought a paradigm shift in Hungarian and international disability strategies inasmuch as – contrary to the paternalistic approach of the previous decades – it focussed on a human rights-based approach. The principal notion is that people with disabilities are not subjects of charitable acts but holders of rights who need to be supported principally through the creation of opportunities for autonomy and for independent living and through equal access to employment and services, rather than through allowances and benefits.

Hungary ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention as well, which makes the individual complaints mechanism accessible for those concerned. When individuals or groups feel that the Hungarian state breached the Convention and they have already used all legal remedies available in Hungary, they may file a notice to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

With regard to the rights of persons with disabilities, the key piece of Hungarian legislation is Act XXVI of 1998 on the Rights and Equal Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities (Act on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). It can be said that at the time of its adoption, this act was a unique piece of legislation and was one of the principal reasons why the UN honoured Hungary with the Roosevelt International Disability Award in 2000.

The primary objective of the act is to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities, and thus to promote their equal opportunities, independent living and active involvement in social life.

The Act on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities contains – among other provisions – the major fields of measures to be implemented for the achievement of these objectives, and prescribes the obligation of accessibility for maintainers of governmental and self-governmental services. In addition, it set up the National Disability Council, which has been operating as a counselling body of the Government and as a major forum for civil dialogue since 1999.

Moreover, the Act on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides for specific rights of people with disabilities, such as – to give but a few examples – the rights to rehabilitation, to aid, to assistance services, to early development and to integrated or protected access to the labour market.

Another key element of legislation is disability allowance. Only those severely disabled people are entitled to this cash benefit who are not capable of independent living or need permanent assistance. The objective of the allowance is to provide financial contribution to the mitigation of the social disadvantages resulting from severe disabilities. The allowance is provided regardless of the income of the person with severe disability.

Another important point is that the Act on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities created a basis for the organisation of disability policies as it stipulates that the Parliament is obliged to create a long-term strategy: a National Disability Programme for a period of seven years. This Programme is broken down by the government into a 3-year and a 4-year medium-term plan of specific governmental measures. These plans contain the exact definition of task, the persons responsible, the required financial resources and the deadline of completion. Both documents have to be renewed periodically; therefore, the system provides a framework for the Hungarian disability policy for a long period of time.

The existing Governmental Decision 10/2006 (II. 16.) on the new National Disability Programme defines the major trends of disability policy for the period between 2007 and 2013. These include prevention, the prohibition of negative discrimination, the protection of the (special) rights of persons with disabilities, and the principles of autonomy, inclusion and equal access. The principle of ‘Nothing about us without us’, declared by the Programme, sets a basic criterion, namely, that persons with disabilities shall be involved – either directly or through representatives elected by them – in the preparation and the implementation of measures relating to them.

The National Disability Programme defines objectives in four target areas:

  • shaping society’s opinion;
  • the improvement of the quality of life of persons with disabilities and their families;
  • active involvement in social life;
  • rehabilitation.

In terms of human rights, the creation of Act CXXV of 2009 on Hungarian Sign Language and the use of Hungarian Sign Language was a major step forward. The Parliament adopted the bill without dissenting votes or abstentions. The adoption of the act marked the introduction of a regulation on sign language whose content may be regarded as outstanding even at the international level, since it recognises sign language as an independent, natural language and people with hearing disabilities as a language minority community. Moreover, that act specifies that it is the obligation of the state to operate a national network of sign language interpretation services, and guarantees free sign language interpretation services for people with hearing disabilities and for the deaf blind. It also makes the opportunity of bilingual primary education available (the main language of instruction being sign language) as of 2017, and makes it obligatory for television channels to provide subtitles for their programmes.