International Day of Persons with Disabilities
The European Commission has published the European Accessibility Act. The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) welcomes this step forward taken by the Commission, announced only one day before the celebration of the International Day of Persons with disabilities [3.12] .
European countries have different rules for making products and services accessible to its citizens. This situation makes it difficult for companies to provide accessible products and services across borders. Therefore, the European Commission (EC) proposed today a new Directive aiming at improving the functioning of the internal market, making it easier for companies to provide accessible products and services across borders to all citizens. The proposal sets common accessibility requirements for certain products and services and those requirements will also apply in the frame of EU procurement rules and for the use of EU funds.
The need for an Accessibility Act in Europe was directly mentioned by the United Nations in its concluding observations to the EU in September 2015 and the Commission has responded to by officially launching the proposal on the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. EASPD welcomes this initiative which could bring major changes to the lives of persons with disabilities in Europe and will continue to monitor the upcoming phases of the EU decision-making process to raise the issues of concern to support service organisations across Europe in the discussions of the Accessibility Act.
For the past three years EASPD has showed concern with regard to:
- Accessibility needs of persons with severe disabilities. A comprehensive approach to accessibility is needed. The right to accessibility as stated in article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has to be guaranteed to persons with all types of disabilities (physical, sensorial, mental and intellectual disabilities). This approach entails the offer of services and products that include all accessibility means, both technical (accessible buildings, formats, information) and human support (tutors, mentors, assistants ).
- Availability of human support. The availability of this type of support is essential to allow some people with severe and/or intellectual disabilities to access products and services.
- The role of specialised agencies. Accessibility is not always easy. EASPD recommended the EC to include in the proposal the need to use the expertise of specialised accessibility agencies to design accessible products and services. If these types of agencies do not exist, then they must be created.
- Universal Design and reasonable accommodation. All new products and services should follow the principles of Universal Design and Reasonable Accommodation should be provided when needed as enshrined in the UN Convention. The design and production of accessible products and services should not represent an economic burden for persons with disabilities.
The Commission has planned an initial consultation period of 8 weeks in which stakeholders can give their feedback and in which EASPD will be involved. It will be followed by the regular legislative procedure involving the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. In the meantime, EASPD is now working on a more detailed analysis of the text. A comprehensive position will be published soon.