Key products and services, like smartphones, ticketing machines and banking services, will have to be made more accessible to people with disabilities.
The new directive, provisionally agreed by Parliament and Council negotiators on Thursday, aims to improve the daily lives of people with disabilities and to encourage businesses to innovate with more accessible products and services.
Around 80 million people in the EU live with a disability to some degree. Due to the ageing of the population, this figure is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020.
Morten Løkkegaard (ALDE, DK), Internal Market Committee rapporteur who led the talks, said: “These long-awaited rules will make a big difference not only to the millions of citizens with disabilities, but also to lot more people, such as elderly persons. Now a disabled person will be able to use self-service machines and everyday products such as computers, phones and e-books.
“For European businesses, the European Accessibility Act will present more opportunities, since we were able to include public procurement in the Act and to introduce provisions that will unburden microenterprises. We have struck the right balance! Consumers with disabilities now will have greater access to the digital economy, and innovation will still be possible”.
More accessible products and services
The “European Accessibility Act” (EAA) sets out requirements to make a number of products and services more accessible. The list includes, amongst others:
-ticketing and check-in machines,
-ATMs and other payment terminals,
-PCs and operating systems,
-smartphones, tablets and TV equipment,
-consumer banking services,
-e-books and dedicated software,
-air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport services, including real-time travel information.
The EAA will outline what needs to be accessible, but will not impose detailed technical solutions as to how to make it accessible, thus allowing for innovation.
All goods and services complying with the accessibility requirements would benefit from free circulation on the internal market.
“Built environment” where the service is provided
Accessibility requirements, for example with regard to ramps, doors, public toilets and staircases, currently vary across EU countries. In order to make the built environment “continuously and progressively more accessible” to disabled persons, member states are encouraged to align their diverging requirements as much as possible. The co-legislators introduced a review clause requiring the Commission to assess the situation five years after the application of the directive.
Special provisions for micro-enterprises
Micro-enterprises that provide services are exempted from the directive and those providing products will be exempted from some obligations to avoid imposing a “disproportionate burden” on them. Member states will have to provide guidelines and tools to micro-enterprises in order to facilitate the implementation of this legislation.
The provisional agreement now needs to be confirmed by the EU member states’ ambassadors (COREPER) and by Parliament’s Internal Market Committee. The draft directive will then be put to a final vote by the full Parliament in an upcoming plenary session and submitted for approval to the EU Council of Ministers.