Why we are campaigning
Former legislation has mainly focused on a specific single sector like the mandate for public authorities to make their websites accessible, or directives to encourage public service providers to procure accessible products to render accessible services etc. Some accessibility requirements are already included in EU rules, but there is no one single, coherent set of rules. The European accessibility act (in fact a directive) pursues a horizontal approach that comprises a wide range of products and services in different sectors and seeks to bridge gaps in other legislative acts, and which would fill the term accessibility with life and concrete meaning.
In our November 2014 “Access Denied” report, the European Blind Union explained that 30 million blind and partially sighted Europeans face unjust and unnecessary barriers in everyday life. We explained that the EU has a vital role in removing these, but that, as yet, it has only partially completed this task. In December 2015 the European commission launched a legislative proposal for a directive for a wide reaching “European accessibility act (EAA), which addresses accessibility as an overarching requirement in various sectors and establishes mandatory accessibility functional requirements. The EAA proposal covers 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 as well as related infrastructure for bus, train and waterborne transport. A range of products and services which receive EU funding need to comply with the criteria of the European Accessibility act. In our initial position paper EBU commented on the legislative draft of the European Commission. We welcomed the Commission's proposal, nevertheless suggesting a broader and more ambitious scope of the act. We felt that the act had some crucial omissions concerning accessibility which would be vital for the everyday lives and independence of blind and partially sighted Europeans.
It took over two years for the European Parliament and the EU Council to define their respective negotiating positions on the Commission’s proposal. The Council’s “General Approach” was far more protective of business interests. After a damage-limiting exercise in the lead committee (IMCO), the amendments adopted by the Parliament in first reading turned out to be more acceptable than feared initially. In particular, we regret that the Parliament excluded micro-entreprises from the scope of the Directive.
On 1 March 2018, informal inter-institutional (“Trilogue”) negotiations started and, to-date, they are still ongoing. In a position paper of February 2018 we commented on the respective positions of the two institutions. In April 2018 we also produced a fact-sheet for the Trilogue, to back our demands with specific arguments and evidence.
The current situation
The current delay in Trilogue negotiations is due to division within the Council and consequently its failure to define its negotiating position, as a result of which the negotiations have stalled for many months in 2018. In particular the difficulty lies in whether the scope of the Act should cover:
- The built environment
- Urban transport
- Tourism services
- Public procurement
Some EU countries are vocally against these inclusions, others are standing in favour, and there is a silent majority – at least apparently – which need to be convinced to join the more progressive stand.
On 27 September 2018, EBU signed an open letter together with EDF and 20 other organisations, to call for the Council to “get its Act together” and allow Trilogue negotiations to move forward in order to have the Act adopted by 3 December 2018 (European Day of Persons with Disabilities). In doing so, we are asking the Council to align its position with that of the Parliament, more ambitious for a meaningful Act.
Looking at these rather gloomy prospects we have to fight all the more for an ambitious act, which is urgently needed to transform Europe into an accessible Europe for all. National governments, parliamentary members and key industrial players need to understand that investing in accessibility will be a future-proof investment, benefiting society at large, fostering growth and technical innovation and paving the way to a more inclusive and equal society for disabled persons.