Last week the European Commission launched a public consultation on its future plans for breaking down barriers to Europeans with disabilities. See the European Commission press release here. The consultation seeks to assist the European Commission to prepare its proposals for a European Accessibility Act, planned for autumn 2012. The Act aims to ensure that persons with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transport and to information and communication services. Better access to the built environment not only benefits persons with disability but everyone. The European Union Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that:
"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." See here.
The Commission adopted a comprehensive European Disability Strategy in 2010 aimed at the creation of a barrier-free Europe for persons with disabilities by 2020. See here. The European Commissions’ European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 proposed to use legislative and other instruments, such as standardisation (including developing specific standards for particular sectors), to augment accessibility for persons with disabilities and the elderly. The Strategy committed to explore the advantages of adopting regulatory measures to ensure accessibility of goods and services, including measures to step up the use of public procurement, through a ‘European Accessibility Act’. There is a perception that progress in extending EU anti-discrimination beyond employment into the provision of good and services would have a negative impact on European business as there would be cost implications for reasonably accommodating persons with disabilities. Thus the proposed European accessibility legislation is being hailed as a “business-friendly proposal that will substantially improve the proper functioning of the internal market for accessible goods and services” with a view to quell opposition from the European business lobby. See here.
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 a EU market for assistive devices. According to the European Commission the market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. In its press release on the public consultation the European Commission cited a study by the UK’s Royal National Institute of the Blind that found that a £35 000 investment by a supermarket chain in making its website accessible resulted in additional revenue of over £13 million a year. The press release also cited a German study that suggested that more accessible facilities would increase travel by persons with disabilities to the tune of between €620 million and €1.9 billion in additional turnover for the German tourism industry.