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. 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. 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 asked the Council to align its position with that of the Parliament, more ambitious for a meaningful Act.
On 8 November, the European Parliament and the Council finally reached a provisional political agreement on the text. The price to pay for that, unfortunately, was a scope of the EAA brought much closer to the Council’s position. The European Parliament plenary approved the text on 13 March, and the EU Council approved it in turn on 9 April, resulting in its formal adoption.
The current situation
As assessed in our press release of 11 November 2018, the EAA is a good step forward. It formulates for the first time a comprehensive set of minimum requirements for all businesses to make a range of products and services accessible for persons with disabilities, and which will have to guide public procurement. Importantly, ATMs, payment terminals and all e-commerce websites and e-book readers are covered.
However, essentially due to the restrictive position of national governments, the EAA falls far short of the horizontal act initially contemplated. With its limited scope, the EAA remains mostly a digital act. The Member States shied away from covering the built environment, tourism and urban transport in any meaningful way. Furthermore, microenterprises are excluded as far as services are concerned.
A new chapter on the EAA begins: the implementation. What is in fact a directive now needs to be put into national law and European standards. EU countries have three years to turn most of the provisions of the EAA into national law. In parallel, the European Commission will specify the accessibility requirements and develop standards to support the implementation.
EBU will accompany this critical work to advance the interests of blind and partially sighted consumers. We will also continue to advocate for a filling of the gaps in accessibility requirements left by the EAA, focusing namely on the built environment, public urban transport and the built environment. See the third point in our Statement on the European elections 2019.