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Disappointing Compromise on EU Accessibility Act

09/11/2018 | 0 comments

Photo of wheelchair user approaching building entrance with steps Photo: Benni de Muelder.

Brussels, 8 November 2018. The European Disability Forum (EDF) writes: "We have political agreement on the European Accessibility Act. It doesn't live up to its name."

Full text of EDF Press Release follows below:

"A provisional agreement on the European Accessibility Act was reached today by EU Institutions. The Act fails persons with disabilities. 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.

Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum stated “EU Member States failed its 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 analyse this agreement and issue a statement on the next steps of the campaign.

The institutions will now finalise the technical details of the text and will vote to ratify today’s agreement." [Ends].

Download the EDF Press Release in PDF format from the right-hand panel.

Ivor Ambrose, Managing Director of ENAT, commented - following the EDF Press Release:

Photo of Ivor Ambrose "For at least seven years the EDF and many other stakeholders, including ENAT, have argued the case for a European Accessibility Act (EAA) that would remove ambiguity and encourage a competitive, "level playing field" for businesses as regards accessibility.

The EAA has been the subject of political promises and a symbol of hope, not only for people with disabilities and their organisations but also for those service providers, both in the public and private sectors, who recognise the value of fairness, equality and socially sustainable practices in business and in society at large. 

The provisional agreement on the EAA reached by the EU Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission represents a serious lack of ambition on the part of the EU institutions. Sadly, this compromise is a decisive step backwards in relation to previous commitments made by Europe to fulfil the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [link to EU Fundamental Rights Agency webpage].

At international level, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim at "reducing inequality and spurring economic growth". The 17 SDGs also underpin the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, which speaks of "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth".

Are these international commitments and policy statements just empty words? Do European lawmakers ignore the difficult choices and buckle under when it comes to the crunch?

In matters of equal treatment of its citizens and visitors, we would expect Europe to be a world leader, acting decisively - not an "also ran". EU policy-makers should show how a modern, inclusive and socially sustainable society can be achieved.

While the proposed Act contains many good points, for example in the area of Information and Communication Technologies, it is clearly in danger of failing to deliver for those who need equal access to goods and services. The announced compromise will rightly frustrate many stakeholders who have worked towards the goal of a better future for all, brought about by a meaningful, effective and workable Act.  

This compromise is likely to be a Phyrric victory for business, as it shows a lack of insight and also a lack of foresight about the significant market power of people with disabilities, their families and friends. There is ample evidence that businesses in the tourism sector and across retail and other services, are losing customers in droves by not providing adequate access. "Lost income" at national level is measured in the billions, as shown by a recent Australian Study of Accessible Tourism. Excluding small enterprises from the Act does not do them a favour - quite the reverse. Businesses (of any size) that do not adapt to the realities of an ageing European population will be left behind.

By failing to point the way towards accessibility in environments, goods and services (including tourism), the "compromised" EAA will serve European businesses and consumers badly.

ENAT will not give up its intention 'to make European tourism destinations, products and services accessible to all travellers and to promote accessible tourism around the world', but our mission will not made any easier by the reduction in scope of the European Accessibility Act.         




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