Monday, October 7, 2019

Accessibility on the new European Commissioners’ agenda from Day 1

In the first days of starting their position, each European Commissioner receives a mission letter from the president elect of the European Commission, Mrs. Von der Leyen. This time around, these letters contain a clear reference to the duty of the Commissioners to help implement the UNCPRD. 

“You will lead on the people with disabilities rights, you will work to ensure that our policies pursue this aim.” With this citation from the mission letter of new EC president Von der Leyen to her Commissioners, Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero started her keynote at this year’s M-Enabling Forum in Düsseldorf, in which she outlined the EU’s policy framework for accessibility.

The European Commission promotes accessibility via a number of complementary pieces of legislation:

  • the European Accessibility Act (EAA) contains direct obligations for economic operators to make ICT products and services accessible; 
  • the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) has inscribed the obligation for equal/equivalent access and also sets conditions for availability and affordability of assistive technology as well as telecom services;
  • the Audiovisual Media Directive (AVMD) includes obligations on accessible content; 
  • the Web Accessibility Directive introduces obligations for pubic authorities to make their websites and apps accessible;
  • the Public Procurement Directives include clauses to obligate public authorities to take accessibility into consideration in their tenders and for products in the scope of the EAA it is compulsory to adopt the accessibility requirements laid out in the Act; 
  • even the European funds, like for instance the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) or the Cohesion Fund (CF), have now some accessibility conditions included;

On top of these, the European Commission has initiated and/or mandated the development of several accessibility standards. These include the accessibility standard for public procurement EN 301 549 as well as the recently finalized standard for Design for All, EN 17161.

“Technology is advancing fast though and the European Commission is trying to look ahead and anticipate possible accessibility barriers of technologies which are yet to come – thinking of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics etc”, said Ms Placencia-Porrero.

Inmaculada’s presentation was followed by a panel on the general progress of digital accessibility in Europe. First, Francesca Cesa Bianchi presented G3ict’s DARE Index which provides macro data on the advances in accessibility on country level. Her findings were then substantiated by reports from national stakeholders in Spain, Slovenia and the UK.

David Zanoletty Garcia from the Fundación ONCE presented their efforts to make the pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago fully accessible, including the unforeseen pitfalls and barriers to overcome in such an endeavor. Starting from GPS data only being precise to a few meters – which can make a big difference if there is a cliff next to the route, or ascents, slopes or stairs not being indicated in the usual map apps.

Dušan Caf from Slovenia’s Digital Society Forum contributed some insights that he gained from recent work for the ITU, in which some countries reported only 1% population with disabilities while some other countries recorded up to 23% population with disabilities – clearly a matter of how disability was defined. We know that in some countries, we have too narrow a definition of disability and that the actual number might be much higher. Estimates are that we have around 100 million people in Europe who have some form of disability.

In Slovenia, the legislation regarding disability and accessibility was adapted when the country joined the EU in 2005. Around 80 different pieces of legislation deal on a national level with disability, however monitoring and enforcement are not very effective.

Robin Spinks from the RNIB in the UK stressed the importance of including people with disabilities in the accessibility training given to organizations and companies – both actively in the development of the content and with the staff who need to understand how to assist people with disabilities.

Accessibility is a process and every interaction with a product or service should be better accessible. This includes updates and refreshing of products. The envelop of accessibility needs to be pushed constantly and this can be accomplished through partnerships with the disability community, Robin added.

The discussion panel was chaired by Gerry Ellis from Feel The BenefIT in Ireland who not only contributed his long experience in the accessibility sector but also his views as a blind user himself.

About the M-Enabling Forum Europe:
The second edition of the M-Enabling Forum Europe 2019 took place on 19 September 2019 in the Congress Center of Messe Düsseldorf parallel to REHACARE. The event is dedicated to promoting accessible and assistive technology for people with disabilities and senior citizens. The M-Enabling Forum Europe is organized by E.J. Krause & Associates, Inc and G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technology. It is a crucial opportunity to link policy to practice through current and emerging technologies for all. Next year’s Forum will be held on 24 September, 2020. More information can be found at:

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