When launching its proposal for a European Accessibility Act (henceforth ‘the Act’) on December 3rd, also the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (see our article here) the European Commission noted that “80 million people in the EU are affected by a disability to some degree”, a figure that is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020 as the EU population continues to age. In 2011, the EU ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which addresses disability as a human rights issue, thus moving on from a medical approach to a social inclusion model. Its article 9 foresees the equal access of persons with disabilities to “the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, […] and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public […]”. The proposed Act aims to make it easier for private businesses and public bodies to make their services and products accessible to people with disabilities.

The current state of affairs

Currently there are no single approach and rules on accessibility between all Member States. Although they all foresee legal requirements regarding aspects such as the accessibility of buildings (including features such as ramps or toilets for disabled people) or public websites, only few of them focus on the accessibility of services such as ATMs, private websites or PCs. The Commission’s proposal aims for a framework for improving accessibility. This will not only benefit persons with disabilities, but also older citizens and families with children.

Increased accessibility – what services are concerned?

The list of products and services included in the Act has been selected in consultation with citizens, businesses and social partners. Some of them are:

  • ATMs and banking services
  • Ticketing machines 
  • Electronic devices such as PCs, TVs and smartphones 
  • Passenger transport services (air, bus, rail and waterborne) 
  • Private websites and e-commerce services

Common accessibility requirements will also apply in EU procurement rules and the use of EU funds.

Specifications on the requirements

In order to avoid imposing an excessive burden on small companies, a common sense clause has been included. For these types of enterprises lighter compliance measures are foreseen. The requirements imposed in the Directive are of general character and based on functionality. They describe which features of products and services need to be accessible but not the specific technical details of the solutions. This flexibility should stimulate innovation and increase the offer of accessible products and services. The Directive would also help the identification of harmonised standards which can be voluntarily followed to comply with the functional requirements.

Member States shall adopt national rules to transpose the Directive within two years after it enters into force. Those provisions should become applicable within an additional period of four years. This means six years after coming into force, it will be applicable in all Member States.