The Accessibility Act – Ensuring access to goods and services across the EU

11 October 2012

Accessibility “is of paramount importance to people with disabilities in the EU. The EDF’s mission is to promote the respect and the exercising of all the rights of people with disabilities,” said Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum (EDF).

He said the EU institutions must respect Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD), but that much remained to be done in that regard.

“People with disabilities cannot enjoy their rights, such as freedom of movement or access to goods and services,” said Vardakastanis, citing as examples barriers to accessing public transport, difficulties with using phones and household goods, problems with using tourism services, and issues related to e-commerce.

“There are many obstacles for people with disabilities in all these areas,” he complained.

“The UN Convention is the basic binding tool for our work,” said Vardakastanis, arguing that “the current situation is unacceptable”. “The UN CRPD must be implemented, because the EU and its member states have signed and ratified it. The EU is bound by it,” he said.

“High prices and lack of choice are also issues to tackle, because they are preventing people with disabilities from benefitting fully from society. 15% of the population are people with disabilities, but the market doesn’t meet their demand – and their needs are increasing,” the EDF president said.

“The market must respond to the needs of the 80 million people in the EU with disabilities,” he declared.

“Age UK is uniquely well-placed to contribute to the development of the Accessibility Act. We were pleased that the proposed scope of the Accessibility Act extends to older people in general, who may have age-related impairments (e.g. to their senses, dexterity, and cognition) – and not just people with disabilities specifically,” said Nicola Robinson, European Political Advisor at Age UK.

“Banking, ICT and transport are gateway services that are prerequisites for so much more, so the Accessibility Act must focus on these. We want to see the involvement of the European Parliament – and qualified majority voting in the Council – rather than unanimity. We would therefore like the Act to have a Single Market legal base,” Robinson said.

“We need penalties and sanctions in the Accessibility Act that are dissuasive enough. We also need a collective redress mechanism for consumers, because it’s very costly for individuals to go to court regarding an inaccessible product or service,” she argued.

“The scope must be very broad,with a focus on public procurement and standardisation to mainstream inclusive design across a wide range of products and services,” she said.

“It should be about core business, not just about corporate social responsibility. In the UK, the over-50s control 80% of the wealth, so there’s a real agenda for jobs and growth in this. We hope the Accessibility Act will catalyse business to invest in and reap the benefits of this huge market,” she concluded.

“Disabilities are part of the human condition. They’re not unique to any one country or geography – just like ICT,” said Peter Korn, Accessibility Principal at Oracle Corporation.

“Even the built environment – phones, trains and cars – is the same worldwide. The definition of ‘accessible’ should be global – and the solutions should be too. Harmonisation should be global, and not just EU-wide. It doesn’t make sense for the EU to have a different definition to the US or Japan, for example,” Korn said.

“At first, we were always behind in ICT – it was a bit like fitting a ramp to a building that hadn’t been designed for ramps. But nowadays, accessibility is being built into our ICT from the beginning,” he declared.

“DG CONNECT is working on a proposal on the E-accessibility of public websites. It’s not the Accessibility Act, but it complements it. E-accessibility implies the accessibility of all ICT products and services,” said Ramon Sanmartin, Policy and Project Officer at DG CONNECT, European Commission.

“Everyone – including the elderly and people with disabilities, but also people living in areas of poor broadband connection – should be able to access the Web,” Sanmartin declared.

“The Commission wants essential public service websites to become accessible according to common EU requirements, and to oblige EU member states to report on and monitor implementation,” he said.