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European Commission seeks public input on measures to break down barriers to disabled people
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On 13 December, the European Commission launched a public consultation on its future plans for breaking down barriers to Europeans with disabilities. The consultation will help the Commission to prepare its proposals for a European Accessibility Act, planned for autumn 2012.
The initiative aims to ensure that people with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transport and to information and communication services. It will also benefit people with limited mobility, such as the elderly. The consultation – itself fully accessible – is aimed at gathering views from businesses, people with disabilities and the general public and will remain open until 29 February 2012.
"Accessibility is about breaking down barriers to disabled people in buildings, transport and online. Improving access also makes life easier for older people, parents with small children and many others," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. "Making goods and services more accessible is also about creating market opportunities and can be a stimulus for innovation and growth. That is why we are consulting business as well as people with disabilities, older people and the public at large."
The Commission adopted a comprehensive strategy last year to create a barrier-free Europe for disabled people by 2020 (IP/10/1505). The plan outlines how the EU and national governments can empower people with disabilities so they can enjoy their rights.
One of the key actions included was an accessibility initiative. The aim is to use standardisation or public procurement rules to make all goods and services accessible to people with disabilities while fostering an EU market for assistive devices. This market is expected to grow considerably in the coming years, following the experience in the United States.
A study by the UK’s Royal National Institute of the Blind showed that a £35 000 investment by a supermarket chain in making their website accessible brought in additional revenue of over £13 million a year. In Germany, a study found that more accessible facilities would increase travel by persons with disabilities, yieldingbetween €620 million and €1.9 billion in additional turnover for the German tourism industry.
One in six people in the European Union – around 80 million – have a disability that ranges from mild to severe. Over one third of people aged over 75 have disabilities that restrict them to some extent. These numbers are set to rise as the EU population grows progressively older. Most of these people are all too often prevented from fully participating in society and the economy because of physical or other barriers, as well as discrimination.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights says that the “Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.” In addition, the EU and all its 27 Member States have already committed to creating a barrier-free Europe by signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
'Accessibility' means that people with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications technologies and systems, and other facilities and services.
On 1-2 December 2011, the Commission organised a major conference in the context of the European Day of People with Disabilities, which also focused on the disability rights perspective of the economic crisis. During the conference, Vice-President Reding announced that Salzburg, in Austria, was the winner of the 2012 Access City award, the EU prize for accessible cities (IP/11/1492).
On 6 December 2011, leaders of the EU institutions came together for the first time with the European Disability Forum, at a high-level meeting, to discuss issues facing Europeans with disabilities (IP/11/1507).
For more information
Justice Directorate General Newsroom:
Public consultation on accessibility
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner: