European Parliament Hearing on the Proposal for a European Accessibility Act

The European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs held a public hearing on the Commission’s proposal for a European Accessibility Act.

Professor Anna Lawson was one of the four experts invited to make a presentation – the others being Ms Ingrid Heindorf from the World Future Council’s Zero Project, Mr David Capozzi from the US Access Board and Ms Sabine Lobnig from the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (all featured in the attached photograph). The presentations were followed by a series of comments and interventions from MEPs and also by the director of the European Disability Forum, after which concluding remarks were delivered by Adam Kósa MEP.

The European Commission introduced the proposal for a European Accessibility Act in December 2015 after an extensive process of consultation and research. A European Accessibility Act is something for which European disabled people’s organisations have campaigned for many years. Its importance was stressed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in its Concluding Observations on the EU in September 2015.

Accessibility has a prominent place in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – a treaty which has been ratified by the EU itself and all except one of its Member States. A European Accessibility Act would ensure a consistent approach to accessibility standards across all Member States and thereby prevent the potential damage to the internal market which could be inflicted by the use of different and inconsistent accessibility standards across different national borders. In addition to providing a mechanism to regulate the accessibility of a range of products (including phones, e-books, ATM and ticket machines), the proposed European Accessibility Act would thus enhance the functioning of the European single market.

If introduced, the proposal could have a major impact on the accessibility of manufactured goods – an issue not covered by the British Equality Act 2010 nor by the equality laws of most other EU countries. It would also have significant implications for manufacturers and providers of certain services (banking and transport in particular). Unsurprisingly therefore, it is generating a good deal of publicity and being subjected to very detailed scrutiny. It is not likely to be adopted into EU law for some years – but it is to be hoped that it will do so at least by the end of the decade.