(BRUSSELS) – The EU Council signalled its readiness Thursday to start talks with the European Parliament on the accessibility directive, to make everyday products and services more accessible to people with a disability.
“Today’s commitment will make it possible for people with disabilities, as well as elderly people and those with temporary health problems, to access products and services more easily,” said Estonia’s Minister of Social Protection Kaia Iva, for the EU presidency: “With all the smart technological solutions available today, our societies can be much more inclusive and ensure a better quality of life for all.”
More than 80 million people live with some kind of disability and this number is rising as a result of an ageing society. With this legislation, a wide range of products and services will become much more accessible to those with special needs. This means that they will be able to play a fuller and more productive role in society.
The products and services covered by the directive include : consumer computer hardware systems such as personal computers, tablets, smartphones; electronic communications services; e-commerce, e-books, services providing access to audio-visual media products; various transport services (for example ticketing machines and travel information) and banking services (ATMs, websites, and mobile device-based banking).
Micro-enterprises that provide services are exempt from the accessibility requirements since they are small, often newly established, and therefore lack the necessary resources.
The directive also helps member states to implement the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which itself includes an obligation to increase the accessibility of products and services. The adoption of the Accessibility act will lead to harmonised implementation of accessibility requirements across the EU and will prevent the fragmentation of the single market and the additional costs which would arise as a result.
The EU Commission welcomed the proposal. Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said: “The Accessibility Act will establish the world’s largest market for accessible products, which will not only bring down prices, but will contribute to enabling disabled persons to participate in society and the labour market.”
However, there was disappointment that the Member States had not been more ambitious: “In particular, I regret that the agreement does not include harmonised requirements to be used by public authorities when buying accessible products and services or when spending EU funds, nor to make the 112 emergency number fully accessible. This is a missed opportunity for public authorities to take the lead on accessibility,” she added.
The agreement paves the way for final negotiations with the European Parliament, which already adopted its position in September 2017.