European Disability Forum: European Accessibility Act – what is the potential to bring a positive change?
For over three years, the European Disability Forum (EDF) and its members have strongly campaigned for the publication of a legislative proposal on the accessibility of products and services in the EU. On 2 December, the European Commission finally published its proposal of this long awaited piece of legislation which was welcomed by EDF. The proposal is innovative as it aims to strengthen the rights of persons with disabilities from an EU internal market perspective. It also followed the United Nations (UN) Committee’s recommendations to the EU to promptly adopt the European Accessibility Act. After a broad consultation with its members from all over Europe, EDF now presents its initial response to the Act.
Why is it important?
Until now, EU member states had certain accessibility laws and rules, but there was no harmonised EU-wide legislation on the accessibility of products and services in the internal market. The European Accessibility Act will harmonize these accessibility laws and rules so that products and services can circulate on the EU internal market without problems, and be accessible for persons with disabilities and other people with functional limitations. At the same time, the Act will improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities in the EU, by allowing them equal access to mainstream products and services, at a more competitive price.
Through its Freedom of Movement campaign, EDF has advocated for a European law on accessibility, as people with disabilities still face barriers to access products and services on equal basis with others.
Using an ATM might be difficult or impossible for blind people if there is no voice output or for wheelchair users if they cannot reach it.
Buying online is an activity increasingly used by consumers, but people with disabilities still face many difficulties in accessing and using websites with e-commerce systems successfully.
Persons with disabilities can buy accessible products, like a smartphone or a TV set, but they are often more expensive than other products and there is less choice.
An ambitious and strong European law on accessibility, such as the European Accessibility Act, could change this. EDF and its members all around Europe examined the European Commission’s proposal for the European Accessibility Act and we are now presenting our initial response, highlighting areas where the text should be improved.
Widening the scope of the act
The Act should include more areas, as there are many products and services that that could be included but have been left out. The proposed text covers areas such as computer hardware and operating systems, ATMs, ticketing machines, check-in machines, phones and smartphones, tablets, TVs, online shopping, banking services, e-books and websites of transport companies. However, it is not enough to make the ATM, for instance, accessible if it continues being in a building that people with disabilities cannot access. Thus, the building of the bank, where the ATM is, should also be accessible. The same is true for a coach or bus terminal, where the ticketing machine might be accessible but not the building in which the machine is situated.
The European Commission’s proposal foresees exceptions if a company argues that it is too complicated or too expensive for them to make their product or service accessible. Companies may use this to avoid making their products or services accessible. We call for the EU to have clarity on the rules and conditions under which such exceptions can be made and to not allow exceptions if there are no very serious reasons for that.
After the publication of the proposal of the Act, there was a consultation period in which EDF and its members submitted their responses. As a next step, the proposal will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council.
EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, stated: “We welcome the initiative of Commissioner Thyssen to establish legislation in this field. We have seen from experience in the US that legislation which includes a robust enforcement and surveillance mechanism is an extremely effective means of ensuring that products and services become accessible for persons with disabilities. We now call on the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament to strengthen the European Accessibility Act by revising the text and including in it stronger and more compulsory provisions in order to address accessibility in a holistic way and to make it an agent of change in the internal market”.