After its review by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last summer, the European Union has been urged to adopt the European Accessibility Act (EAA) within 12 months. This long-awaited piece of legislation is a cornerstone in the EU’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) since it has the potential to improve the lives of more than 80 million Europeans with disabilities by ensuring their equal access to goods and services in the EU.
So, it was with great enthusiasm that on 3 December 2015, the European Day of Persons with Disabilities, we welcomed the publication by the European Commission of the draft EAA. We find it very positive that the European Commission has decided to adopt a Directive, which is legally binding on all EU Member States. Thus, it is particularly important that the EAA provides proper protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, in line with the requirements of the CRPD, an international human rights instrument ratified by the EU and almost all Member States.
After careful reading and analysis of the scope and content of the proposed EAA, Inclusion Europe is today publishing a Policy Paper which gives a critical analysis of the text, suggesting ways to make it even better. The Policy Paper underlines some of the changes that Inclusion Europe and its members would like to see in the final text in order to ensure that the accessibility needs of persons with intellectual disabilities are protected.
While Inclusion Europe is pleased that many areas, relevant for persons with intellectual disabilities are covered by the draft legislation, we deplore that the scope doesn’t cover all areas that are required under the UN CRPD accessibility requirements. Furthermore, the assessment of the disproportionate burden of applying the accessibility requirements is left to the appreciation of the manufacturers, importers and distributors. Since they will most probably base their decision on the current market situation, from which persons with intellectual disabilities are largely excluded, we are concerned that the rights of thousands of most marginalised Europeans will continue to be violated.
Persons with intellectual disabilities need accessible information in order to be fully included in society. Therefore, the use of the Easy-to-Read format and pictograms, recognised by the European Standards to make information easy to read and understand needs to be mainstreamed throughout the Act in order to remove the remaining barriers persons with intellectual disabilities face while accessing to public goods and services. Moreover, the text does not include specific requirements to provide persons with disabilities with the possibility to seek assistance. Yet, this is an important measure which may ensure the accessibility needs of persons with intellectual disabilities.
Inclusion Europe also regrets the use of the already existing CE marking as marking system to signal compliance with accessibility standards. We believe that this might confuse all customers, including persons with intellectual disabilities.Regarding the enforcement procedure, we insist on monitoring by the competent national authorities of the existing and future products and services and their conformity with the accessibility requirements of the EAA. This will only be possible through a strong enforcement mechanism, which will enable withdrawal or recall products from the market that are incompliant with the accessibility legislation.
For all these reasons, Inclusion Europe calls the European Commission to make the suggested improvements to the current draft of the EAA while strengthening the language and referring explicitly to measures that are indispensable to fulfil the accessibility needs of persons with intellectual disabilities. We hope the EU chooses to show once more that it is committed to protect the rights of the most vulnerable citizens and to fully comply with the specific requirements of the CRPD.