Adopted by the General Assembly on May 2014

Around 1 million deaf people in Europe should have the right to access to information and communication in buildings, and other areas in all aspects of life, on an equal basis with others, including information and communication technologies and systems. This includes the right to autonomy and security without discrimination as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which has been ratified by the EU and almost all its Member States. 

The European Directive 95/16/EC on lifts and the accompanying European standards have provided for a large number of accessibility features with regard to persons with disabilities, such as Braille, the dimension of the elevator, and various kinds of audio-based services in case of an emergency. By contrast, almost all deaf persons, including those who use sign language or hearing aids, should receive effective visual information and communication to ensure the dignity of the individual and the full participation and inclusion in society. However, this Directive and other pieces of legislation do not take into account deaf persons, with the exception of EN 81-28 and EN 81-70, which mention that a yellow illuminated pictogram should indicate that an alarm has been sent, and a green pictogram when the call is connected. It also includes a recommendation to include an induction loop for hearing aid users.

Elevator is an emblematic case of accessibility that does still not include deaf people, due to a lack of visual information and communication, especially in case of an emergency where deaf people often do not have access to visual information and/or communication. Accessible communication with an operator is crucial in an unusual emergency situation, which can create distress and poses a security issue. It is therefore important to develop effective and accessible information and communication in an emergency situation to ensure safety and autonomy. Attention should be paid to the design of the environments from both the architectural point of view and from that of technology, in full compliance with the seven principles of ‘Universal Design’.

Deaf persons require visual information and communication, e.g. visual alarms, signals, and intercommunication. This could be realised by a wall or door being fully or partially glazed, a video screen and/or a video relay interpreter. Each audio information and communication must be accompanied by a visual alternative to give full access to each deaf person, including information on the floor numbers, and on how to call or assist someone during an emergency. Various kinds of visual accessibility should be provided as reasonable accommodation, as defined in Article 2(4) UNCRPD, to avoid discrimination in the meaning of Article 2(3) UNCRPD (denial of reasonable accommodation), as well as Article 5 on equality and non-discrimination.

A potential cost-effective and accessible solution is the installation of a hydraulic elevator with an intelligent control panel. In case of emergency or blocking of the doors of the cabin, with few moving parts to wear out and an integrated emergency battery lowering system, the elevator automatically returns to the lowest floor and features a full height light ray car safety entrance protection included as standard.

For a more inclusive and non-discriminatory project, it is advisable to make sure that the elevator ensures a correct multi-sensory (visual, auditory, and tactile) communication both in action and in case of malfunction. Accessibility regulations should not only apply to new buildings, open to the public, but also to existing buildings without implying extra cost. Consult an accessibility expert or organizations of deaf and hard of hearing persons to implement access and awareness training before starting the construction and installation of elevator.

Relevant UNCRPD interpretation:

With the signature and ratification of the UN CRPD the EU and relevant European Member States shall:

  • Identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, services, and information and communication technologies, including emergency services.
  • Take appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against deaf persons. This includes European standards, directives and others.
  • Undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aides, devices and assistive technologies suitable for deaf persons, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost.

EUD would like to thank Consuelo Agnesi, Humberto Insolera, and Filip Verstraete for their invaluable input to this paper. EUD also acknowledges the collaboration with the European Disability Forum (EDF) and EUD staff.


Further Links:

CEN/TC Standards:

Gallaudet University (glazed glass doors) - example: 

Hotel elevator (video) – example:

Hydraulic lift – example:


Further Reading & References:

Agnesi C., Zecchini E. (2009): “Architectural barriers and sensory barriers" Camerino, UNICAM editions - p. 68 – 93; p.73-77; p. 93-97.

Agnesi C. in a specialized magazine of fire prevention and civil protection, “Antincendio” (April 2013): “The design guidelines for safety and security of people with deafness”, EPC Group Edition – p. 7-8.

Wheatley, M. & Pabsch, A. (2012). Sign Language Legislation in the European Union - Edition II. Brussels: EUD.

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