Connect with us


#Accessibility - Making products and services in the EU easier to use



The European Accessibility Act aims to ensure more products and services are accessible for elderly people and people living with a disability. 

On 13 March Parliament approved the European Accessibility Act (EAA). The new rules are a step towards a fairer and more inclusive Europe and will improve the daily lives of the elderly and people with disabilities across the EU.

The final text will still need to be approved by the Council before it can enter into force. Once the legislation has been published in the EU's official journal, member States will have three years to transpose the new provisions into national law and six years to apply them.

More accessible products and services

More than 80 million people live with disabilities in the EU and many have difficulties using everyday products, such as smartphones, computers, e-books, and encounter problems in accessing key services via ticket machines or ATMs.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) requires the EU and member states to ensure accessibility. Measures at EU level are needed to set common accessibility requirements for key products and services.

The European Accessibility Act sets standards for key products and services:
  • Ticketing and check-in machines;
  • ATMs and other payment terminals;
  • PCs and operating systems;
  • smartphones, tablets and TV equipment;
  • access to audio-visual media services, e-books;
  • e-commerce;
  • some elements of passenger transport services, and;
  • electronic communications, including the 112 emergency number.

Opportunities for businesses and consumers

Having common standards at EU level will prevent member states from developing different laws? This will make it easier and more attractive for businesses to sell accessible products and services in the EU and abroad.

The new rules will encourage competition between economic operators and promote the free movement of accessible products and services. It is expected to give consumers more choice of accessible products and service and reduce their cost.

Exemptions for micro-enterprises

Because of their size and limited resources, exemptions would apply to some micro-enterprises, which are small companies with fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet of less than €2 million.

However, these firms will be encouraged to manufacture and distribute products and provide services that comply with the accessibility requirements of the new rules.

EU countries will have to provide guidelines to these micro-enterprises to facilitate the implementation of the legislation.

Next steps

MEPs will vote on the draft directive during a plenary session in March. It will also need to be approved by the Council of Ministers before it can enter into force.


Parliament calls for a new ambitious #EUDisabilityStrategy



A man in a wheelchair working in an office. ©Industrieblick/AdobeStock©Industrieblick/AdobeStock 

As the current EU Disability Strategy comes to an end, Parliament is calling on the European Commission for an ambitious post-2020 strategy. Discover its priorities.

What the Parliament wants in the new EU Disability Strategy

The European Parliament wants an inclusive society in which the rights of people living with disabilities are protected and adapted to individual needs and where there is no discrimination.

During the June plenary session, MEPs will vote on its priorities for a new EU Disability Strategy post 2020, building upon the current European Disability Strategy for 2010-2020.

Parliament wants the EU to lead in promoting the rights of people with disabilities and calls for an ambitious and comprehensive strategy based on the principle of full inclusion.

The resolution calls on the European Commission for:

  • A new strategy to be developed in close cooperation with people with disabilities and their organizations.
  • The mainstreaming of the rights of all people with disabilities into all policies and areas.
  • Clear and measurable targets and regular monitoring.
  • Equal access for people with disabilities to health care, employment, public transport, housing.
  • Sufficient funds for the implementation of all accessibility-related obligations.
  • The implementation and further development of the EU disability card pilot project, which allows for the mutual recognition of disabilities in some EU countries.
  • A common EU definition of disability.
People living with disabilities in Europe: Facts and figures
  • There are an estimated 100 million people with disabilities in the EU.
  • The employment rate of persons with disabilities (aged 20-64) stands at 50.6%, compared to 74.8% for people without disabilities. (2017)
  • 28.7% of persons with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 19.2% of the general population. (2018)
  • 800,000 people living with disabilities are denied the right to vote in the EU.
A differently-abled man working in an amputee shop for production of prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStockA man working in an amputee shop on the production of a prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock
EU disability measures so far

The European Disability Strategy was put in place to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • An international legally binding human rights treaty setting minimum standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
  • The EU and all member states have ratified it.
  • Both EU and member states are obliged to implement the obligations, according to their competences.

Among the concrete initiatives launched thanks to the European Disability Strategy is the European Accessibility Act, which ensures that more products and services like smartphones, tablets, ATMs or e-books are accessible to people with disabilities.

The directive on web accessibility means people with disabilities have easier access to online data and services online because websites and apps operated by public sector institutions, such as hospitals, courts or universities, are required to be accessible.

The Erasmus+ student exchange programme promotes the mobility of participants with disabilities.

Find out more on EU policies for a more social Europe.

Next steps

The European Commission is planning to present its proposal for a new disability strategy in 2021.

Continue Reading


#Disability strategy for the next decade: EU should lead way in promoting progressive policies says #EESC



The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a high-level conference at which it brought together leading actors in disability policy to discuss the EU's new strategy in the field, which is in the making and is expected to have a profound effect on millions of EU citizens with disabilities in all spheres of life over the next decade.

The aim of the conference on 'Shaping the EU agenda for disability rights 2020-2030' was to present the EESC's recommendations and proposals for the new strategy, but also to offer a platform for exchange and input that will form part of the extensive consultations contributing to its preparation and finalisation by the European Commission in the early months of 2021.

The EESC's recommendations and proposals had already been put forward in its own-initiative opinion adopted in December.

"With the new Commission and Parliament and the new budget programming period, this is an ideal moment for shaping a new strategy for people with disabilities. With the delivery of its opinion, the EESC was the first institution to contribute to the debate the Commission has opened on this topic," said EESC Vice President for Communication Isabel Cano Aguilar, opening the conference.

Presenting the EESC's proposals, the rapporteur for the EESC opinion, Yannis Vardakastanis, who is also the president of the European Disability Forum, said the new agenda should be much more comprehensive and ambitious than the one currently in place.

The EESC called for the new strategy to be fully aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Full implementation should be ensured by putting pressure on member states, through the European Semester, to develop disability strategies of their own.

The implementation of the UNCRPD must also be monitored at EU level by establishing disability focal points in all directorates-general of the Commission, in the agencies and in other institutions, with the focal point in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers taking the lead. Intensive inter-institutional co-operation should be encouraged, with particular emphasis on setting up a working group on disability in the European Council.

Disability equality issues should be mainstreamed in all EU policies and the EU agenda should foster the perception of disability as part of human diversity, ditching the medical or charitable approach to persons with disabilities.

Vardakastanis stressed the importance of giving a voice to disability organisations when it came to designing and implementing policies under the disability agenda.

"'Nothing about us without us' is not a slogan, but a way of life and a form of emancipation. The strong message of our opinion is that we need to make disability discrimination a thing of the past!" he said,  adding that the opinion was based on a very firm belief that "the EU has to be a leading region in the world in promoting progressive disability equality policies", both internally and globally.

The conference brought together experts and representatives of European and international institutions who are leading the debate on the new strategy.

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said the Commission would base the new agenda on the results of the ongoing evaluation of the current strategy, bringing greater fairness to the daily lives of citizens with disabilities.

"This Commission is about a Union of Equality. In her political guidelines, President Ursula von der Leyen put unprecedented emphasis on social fairness and equality. For the very first time, equality is a portfolio in its own right," she maintained.

The conference focused in particular on areas where discrimination of people with disabilities is the most prevalent, such as employment, accessibility, social inclusion, education, and mobility. The importance of developing assistive technologies that are affordable and accessible for all was also singled out as a priority.

Speakers drew attention to the gaps identified in the current EU strategy, such as a lack of consistent and comparable data on disability and the absence of a cross-sectoral approach in the EU, something that is perhaps best illustrated by the failure to mainstream the rights of women and girls with disabilities into EU gender policy.

"The disability strategy that is now in place entirely 'forgot about' women with disabilities. This needs to be rectified. We need to recognise issues such as health, forced sterilisation and coerced abortion as new forms of discrimination. We need to mention how difficult for them is to work, how hard for them is to access justice," said MEP Rosa Estaràs Ferragut.

The risk of poverty and social exclusion is exponentially increasing for individuals with disabilities, making social protection and access to care and support immensely important.

"Poverty, for people with disabilities, is an inevitable consequence of political choices and an explicit denial of fundamental human rights, brought about by political systems, systems which we can make fairer, more compassionate and more representative of our European values," said Leo Williams of the European Anti-Poverty Network.

Lucie Susova of the European Trade Union Confederation mentioned the importance of including representatives of persons with disabilities in collective bargaining in the workplace.

With buildings, public spaces and transport remaining inaccessible to Europeans with disabilities in many places, the EESC proposed setting up an EU Access Board that would make sure EU laws on accessibility are fully respected.

David Capozzi of the US Access Board spoke about the situation in the United States, where due to stringent laws such as the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act), and huge fines for non-compliance, "disability advocates are not waiting for better access".

For example, before the ADA was passed, only 40% of fixed route buses were accessible, compared to 100% today. The ADA now requires all new rail stations and bus stops to be accessible as well, Capozzi said via videoconference. The city of Chicago was recently sued for having only 11 intersections with pedestrian signals accessible to the visually impaired out of 2,672 intersections with pedestrian signals for people who can see.

The Commission expects to complete the evaluation of the current strategy by July 2020 and, on the basis of the draft agenda, to then hold formal consultations on the new strategy, to be conducted by the Commission in cooperation with other institutions and partners. Once all the feedback has been collected, it will issue the Communication on the new disability strategy within the first three months of 2021.

Continue Reading


'Disappointing compromise' on #EUAccessibilityAct



A provisional agreement on the European Accessibility Act was reached on 8 November by EU institutions. The Act fails persons with disabilities, says the European Disability Forum.

It mainly covers digital accessibility and leaves out the real world environment where persons with disabilities live. The European Accessibility Act will add new EU-wide minimum requirements on accessibility on a limited range of products and services. It was proposed by the European Commission in 2015, following more than 10 years of campaigning by the disability movement.  A range of products and services will need to be accessible to and usable by millions of persons with disabilities in the EU; such as computers, smartphones, TVs, ATMs, payment terminals, e-books, e-readers, websites and mobile applications of private companies and ticket machines. The 112-emergency number and telephony services will also have to be accessible to all Europeans.

Expectations not met 

Despite these, the Act lacks essential aspects. It excludes transport. It excludes microenterprises that provide services. It excludes household appliances. It excludes any obligation on accessible buildings and infrastructure. It excludes the real environment where people spend most of their time.

European Disability Forum President Yannis Vardakastanis said: “EU member states failed citizens with disabilities. It seems more like a European Union of businesses than a European Union of people."

He added: "EU member states need to go above and beyond the scope of the Act if they want it to make a difference. They need to assure that persons with disabilities must have the same access to places, products and services as everybody else.”

The European Disability Forum will now analyze this agreement and issue a statement on the next steps of the campaign. The institutions will now finalize the technical details of the text and will vote to ratify today’s agreement.

The European Disability Forum is an independent NGO that defends the interests of 80 million Europeans with disabilities. EDF is a unique platform which brings together representative organizations of persons with disabilities from across Europe. It is run by persons with disabilities and their families.

Continue Reading