Wednesday

29th Mar 2017

Opinion

Realism and compromises for a European Accessibility Act

  • The European Accessibility Act could impact the lives of the 80 million disabled people in Europe. (Photo: stephen jones)

We have a common goal: to make Europe more accessible. I strongly believe that we can only reach this goal by being realistic and finding good compromises - not behind closed doors in the Parliament, but together with a broad variety of stakeholders.

Today we start negotiations in the European Parliament on an important issue - the European Accessibility Act.

The reaction of stakeholders to my draft report and the number of amendments submitted by my colleagues at the parliament show just how important this proposal is.

We have to get it right. 

From the beginning of the process, as rapporteur for this file, it has not been my ambition to produce an ideologically-driven thesis, but instead to deliver solutions that will be implemented by Member States.

A European approach is a necessity if we are to avoid the challenges in reaching a consensus, which could arise in the differing transposition of the UN Convention on People with Disabilities across 27 member states.

However, getting member states on board with this legislation does not mean that we need to lower the ambitions of the Act in the European Parliament - quite the opposite.

The role of the parliament is crucial in this particular proposal. It must be our main task to facilitate a freer life for the estimated 80 million people in Europe living with disabilities.

The starting point and aim is twofold: to increase accessibility for those with needs and, at the same time, strengthen the cornerstone of our European co-operation: the Single Market.

As I have said before, this means striking a delicate balance between better accessibility and creating the best possibilities for businesses to develop accessible products and services. 

If we manage to achieve this, we will reach a win-win solution.

Accessibility will be improved in many areas, such as online shopping, e-books, operating systems and transportation. At the same time, businesses will be encouraged to innovate in producing accessible products and have better access to sell their accessible products and services all over Europe. 

Innovation: driving accessibility

After consulting both representatives for disabled people and businesses that deal with accessibility in one way or another and across many sectors, I have experienced a shared commitment: to increase accessibility.

Greater accessibility has great added value, not only for people with disabilities but also for elderly people, pregnant women and for society as a whole.

Innovation is taking place - and the development is swift. Many good examples come from the ICT sector. By taking the lead, this sector has provided ample motivation for other sectors to also take accessibility on board.

Take the smart phone, for instance. This summer, touch-screen smartphones will celebrate their 10th birthday. Only ten years ago, Apple presented a solution, which today is not only an assistive device, but instead it has become mainstream. 

People living with disabilities are the ones who best know their needs. That is why the involvement of disabled people is essential for businesses when developing new products and services.

Taking the uniqueness of every person living with a disability into account, we also need to recognise that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution.

This is why it is my hope that the Act will work as an innovation booster and encourage businesses, big and small, all over Europe, to innovate and come up with solutions that fulfill every single user's needs.

It is my hope and ambition that the European Accessibility Act will significantly improve the lives of Europe's 80 million disabled people.

By being pragmatic and realistic, I am acutely aware that we will not achieve 100% accessibility overnight, but I am confident that, with this Act, we are heading in the right direction.

Morten Loekkegaard is an MEP for the ALDE group and rapporteur for the report on the European Accessibility Act.

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