Accessibility Act: Business over people?

26 April 2017

The European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee (IMCO Committee) adopted a very disappointing report on the Accessibility Act in yesterday’s vote.

Activists calling for #Accessibility for all'The IMCO Committee has favoured business demands over the rights of people, including persons with disabilities, older people and all consumers. This fully contradicts all previous statements by the European Parliament on the Accessibility Act and in particular the European Parliament’s resolution of 7 July 2016. The report is watering down the European Commission’s proposal to such an extent that there is a risk that the Accessibility Act may be meaningless for millions of people in Europe.

This is a moment in Europe where citizens need to see the European Institutions adopting laws and policies which are going to benefit ordinary people. EDF is strengthened in our resolve to work with our members, partners and allies for the European Parliament to fight for the rights of persons with disabilities, as it has done in the past. We call on all the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to substantially amend the IMCO Committee’s report in the plenary in June and to promote a strong and ambitious Accessibility Act.

A report that does not fulfil the potential of the Accessibility Act

EDF, together with its members and partners, have been strongly campaigning for ambitious legislation on the accessibility of products and services in Europe. Nonetheless, almost all amendments on issues that the disability movement had proposed were rejected by the IMCO Committee. In the final vote, the report was adopted by a narrow majority of IMCO MEPs: 19 votes in favour and 17 abstentions.

Achieving a wide-reaching and ambitious legal text that will make a real difference in the lives of 80 million Europeans with disabilities, 150 million older people and all other citizens is now at risk.

Man in wheelchair out of a bus

The IMCO Committee’s report as it was voted yesterday:

  • Completely excludes microenterprises from making their products and services accessible to all people;
  • Limits the link to public procurement and European Union (EU) Structural Funds;
  • Does not fully address the accessibility of the built environment;
  • Deletes the definition of “persons with functional limitations”;
  • Exempts both Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and microenterprises from the notification obligation to the authorities;
  • Limits the application of the Act on transport services;
  • Grants longer transition times to self-service terminals;
  • Limits the accessibility requirements for audiovisual services to only websites and mobile applications.

What does that mean in practice?

  • The exemption of microenterprises means that many e-commerce services and e-books of small publishers will be inaccessible; millions of people in Europe, including persons with disabilities, will continue being excluded from buying things online or reading e-books.
  • Buildings do not have to be accessible, if Member States show they already have any kind of accessibility legislation in place, even though this legislation might be very limited or insufficient in practice. Therefore, millions of people in Europe will continue facing barriers to enter a bank, a school, a train station etc.
  • It will be possible that EU funding and taxpayer’s money are used to pay for a school building that is not accessible, as there are still no binding accessibility requirements. Entering a school will, thus, continue being impossible for many children with disabilities in Europe.
  • A “small” company of up to 250 employees can continue making inaccessible products without having to notify the authorities, if they consider that making their products and services accessible would be too much of a burden for them. In practice, it will be therefore difficult to check if they are applying the accessibility requirements correctly.
  • When a company calculates whether making their product accessible would cost them too much, they only have to estimate the number of persons with disabilities that would be “directly affected”. This excludes older people, people that have temporary impairments e.g. following surgery or with a broken leg, as well as other consumers that benefit from the accessibility features.
  • Blind woman using a cash machineEven if they are not accessible, cash machines (ATMs) or ticketing machines can still be used until the end of their economic lives; they don’t have to be replaced by accessible ones which would make it possible for all people to use them to withdraw money or buy a ticket.
  • Every TV broadcaster will decide themselves how their accessibility services will be provided to their audience and of what quality these will be. For example, when it comes to subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing people, or the audio description for blind people. Furthermore, important aspects on audiovisual services, such as the Electronic Program Guides, will remain inaccessible so persons with disabilities and other people won’t be able to use them.

This vote has serious implications on the final text of the Accessibility Act

The IMCO Committee’s report portrays the Act as a “burden” for enterprises. It fails to see the potential for enterprises to reach more consumers by not excluding consumers with disabilities and other people because of lack of accessibility. The report also fails to see the full potential of the Act as an instrument for the European Union (EU) and its Member States to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). The EU itself and almost all its Member States – except Ireland - have ratified the CRPD and have the obligation to apply its principles in practice, including accessibility. As a matter of fact, the Accessibility Act does not impose new commitments on Member States, but it reinforces their existing commitment to promote accessibility in line with the CRPD.

The adopted report also contradicts previous resolutions and commitments that the European Parliament has made to support a strong and ambitious Accessibility Act. Therefore, the outcome of yesterday’s vote does not reflect the Parliament’s role as a front runner for the rights of its citizens and in particular the rights of persons with disabilities.

What lies ahead?

This report represents the view of the IMCO Committee on the Accessibility Act. The European Parliament as a whole has yet to vote on it in its plenary session in June. The negotiations among the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission on the Accessibility Act have not started yet.

We will work with our members and our allies to call on the European Parliament to substantially amend the IMCO Committee’s report in the plenary and to promote a strong and ambitious Accessibility Act that will bring a real change in the lives of its citizens.

Follow our campaign on Twitter #AccessibilityAct and share your thoughts on this issue with MEPs, the European Parliament (@Europarl_EN) and the IMCO Committee (@EP_SingleMarket).


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