Towards an inclusive and accessible Europe

A lot has been achieved so far at the European level concerning accessibility for all. Eleven years ago, the European Union (EU) adopted a regulation on air passengers’ rights for persons with disabilities. This was a ground-breaking text that, for the first time, put people with disabilities at the centre of a piece of EU legislation. Other sectorial legislation and initiatives on accessibility followed; examples include the first regulation on rail accessibility of 2007 (TSI-PRM), and last year, the Directive on Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies.

However, until now the EU has taken a piece-by-piece approach. The European Accessibility Act, proposed by the European Commission in 2015, could change this situation and provide a harmonised and comprehensive approach to accessibility at the EU level. With the support of European Disability Forum members, and partners such as Social Platform and AGE Platform Europe, we have campaigned for many years for the publication of the Accessibility Act, so we warmly welcomed the Commission’s proposal.

The Council and the European Parliament are working right now on their positions on this proposal. Unfortunately, the news coming from those two institutions till now is very disappointing. The European Parliament, usually a defender of disability rights and in the past very supportive of the Accessibility Act, has surprised many by issuing an opinion by its Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) which dramatically weakens the Commission’s proposal for the Accessibility Act. The IMCO report has clearly favoured business demands over the rights of people, including those with disabilities, older people and all consumers. This is the first time the European Parliament has acted as an obstacle to strong legislation to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ensuring the accessibility of products and services in the Internal Market is the EU’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) that the EU has ratified. Without a strong Accessibility Act, millions of people will continue being excluded from entering public buildings (universities, banks, train stations), buying a bus ticket, watching TV, shopping online, withdrawing money, etc.

In this moment, people in Europe need to see the EU adopting laws and policies that are going to benefit ordinary people. Thanks to all Social Platform members for your continued support for a strong Accessibility Act. The Europe we want is an inclusive and accessible place for everyone.

By Catherine Naughton, Director of Social Platform member the European Disability Forum.