Making accessibility the norm

On 8 November the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup held a conference on the proposal for a European Accessibility Act (EAA). It is a law that would make many products and services in the European Union more accessible for people with disabilities, as well as elderly people and others benefiting from user friendliness (e.g. subtitles for people who are deaf also encourages people to learn a new language). Social Platform supports the work of our members for the Accessibility Act to be adopted as soon as possible.

The proposal would make a difference to the lives of the 80 million people with disabilities living in the EU, and as pointed out by Anne-Sophie Parent from AGE Platform Europe, elderly people will benefit too as they will soon be the majority population in the EU. Accessible goods and services unblock barriers that previously hindered people from accessing other human rights, such as education and employment, enabling them to contribute to society, said Catherine Naughton from European Disability Forum (EDF).

The proposal includes only certain products and services, mainly smartphones, tablets and computers, ticketing machines and check-in machines, television and tv programmes, banking and ATM machines, e-books and online shopping. EDF and AGE Platform Europe would like it to be wider; for example, while ATM machines are required to be accessible, banks don’t have to be, and while ticket machines at train stations should be accessible, the station building itself doesn’t have to be.

Adina Braha-Honciuc from Microsoft stated that mainstream technology has to become more accessible to help people with disabilities to participate in every aspect of society. On the other hand, Microsoft and the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) were critical of the proposal that businesses should no longer have the autonomy to decide themselves whether to make their products accessible or not. Thomas Barmüller from MMF argued that regulations could limit innovation, and accessibility features of today’s mobile phones have been introduced without the need for EU legislation. On the contrary, Mark Wheatley from European Union of the Deaf argued that we need to future-proof technology, including by making sure that the Accessibility Act is fit for purpose. Accessibility should be the norm, and consumers should be informed when products deviate and are made accessible only for some, said Chiara Giovannini from the European consumer voice in standardisation.

We fully support our members’ work for an EU Accessibility Act, particularly as it is in line with our core work on investing in and access to services, equal treatment, non-discrimination and civil dialogue. The Act would enable more people to live independently and contribute to society, access education and employment, and enjoy the right to free movement. This I said a week later (16 November) when EDF, AGE Platform Europe and I met Morten Løkkegaard, author of the European Parliament’s report. EDF and AGE Platform Europe shared their more detailed concerns that the Act does not include accommodation services, built environment, household appliances and payment terminals. With regards to the concern about whether a new Act will make a difference, EDF’s Catherine Naughton answered that it has the possibility to become one of the best laws globally, complementing references in other legislation (such as transport) by articulating the more precise requirements and common standards to be implemented and monitored. AGE Platform Europe added that a more accessible environment will lower the costs for long-term care in the future. The more people the EU can deliver for, the more effective and beneficial the investment will be.

While Member States’ concerns are legal, economic and political, they all support the intention of the Act, said Mr Løkkegaard. He reassured participants that he will do his best to meet the deadline for delivering a report adopted by the European Parliament before the summer.