European Economic and Social Committee Hearing:
Accessibility as a Human Right
20 June 2013
On 4 June, The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hearing on accessibility as a human right (click here) discussed how all forms of accessibility should be recognised as a human right. Europeans with disabilities often cannot access public transportation, public buildings, the Internet, and other public entities. With barriers, it is difficult for people with disabilities to exercise their rights as fully-fledged citizens.
EESC shared their stance on the situation of persons with disabilities. In their position paper, they demanded an inclusive labour market, implementation of legislation regarding disabilities, and more accessibility.
This hearing was to empower persons with disabilities by giving them the opportunity to talk about what they need and how legislation can be improved and implemented. It is also to make a case for accessibility as a human right and push European Union (EU) Member States to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Panellists shared one same message—accessibility must be seen as a fundamental right because it is the gateway to other rights. With no accessibility, persons with disabilities will not be able to exercise their other rights such as political participation, expressing their opinions, and others.
Yoannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum (EDF), agrees that accessibility is a fundamental human right for persons with disabilities in order to exercise their other rights; however, he also believes that the disabled community must agree on one unified approach to accessibility. With a common message, the community would be able to push for accessibility more effectively. Stéphane Buffetaut, President of the TEN Section of the EESC, recognised the wide scope of accessibility and urged the community to define what reasonable was because many accommodations are often seen as unreasonable at national level when they are not. Deaf people face this situation frequently, for instance, sign language interpreter requests are sometimes rejected. Often, it is believed that Deaf people are able to communicate effectively without interpreters, especially when the requester can speak. However, people do not realise that this is not the most effective way for Deaf people to communicate. Sign language interpreters are reasonable accommodations and the deaf community ensure that they will be provided with sign language interpreters at regional, national, and European level.
Accessibility covers issues relating to physical, mental, and communication barriers, among others. Recently, the focus on web accessibility has increased with the rise of this digital era. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), stated that legislations for web accessibility are critical to break down barriers for disabled people. It is crucial for persons with disabilities to participate in the progress in order to have inclusive legislation to be passed and implemented. As from now, it is expected that public sector bodies’ websites at EU level are to be accessible by 2020, meaning the websites are for example to have subtitles. By having public sector bodies’ websites accessible, it is more likely for other websites to become more accessible with time (so-called ‘spill over effect’).
As they talked about accessibility being recognised as a human right, panellists discussed the UNCRPD and how it can be implemented further in EU Member States. Stig Langvad, Chair of the Danske Handicaporganisationer and member of the UNCRPD Committee, pointed out that a lack of accessibility is discrimination. Krista Orama, Associate Human Rights Officer at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, explains more about Article 9 in the UNCRPD, which defines accessibility as a human right. This has been used in cases and supported persons with disabilities who have faced barriers, such as inaccessible ATMs in Hungary. Arnold Pindar, President of the Steering Committee of the European Consumer Voice in Standardisation (ANEC), also explains that he believes that the principle for architecture should be focused on accessibility for all persons with disabilities, including children and the elderly. Anna Lawson explains that UNCRPD is the very first binding document that defined accessibility as a human right. Finally, Dr Ádám Kósá, MEP, announced that the EU has been working on a pilot project for deaf people where they will be able to communicate with MEPs. He also stressed the importance of web accessibility, seeing that people rely on the web for multiple purposes such as shopping nowadays. He shared that less than 10% of European websites are accessible.
As he was giving his testimony, Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, Director of the Equality Directorate at DG Justice, made a point—accessibility is for everyone; including the elderly, persons with disabilities, children, the injured, business owners, and more. As everyone is able to benefit from accessibility, Rodolfo Cattani, Secretary General of the European Disability Forum, wants the EU to recognise the intersectionality of Europe and address discrimination against multiple groups of people rather than just focusing on persons with disabilities. However, that naturally will lead to some clashes among different rights. Yet, with the UNCRPD being implemented, accessibility as a human right must trump other rights such as deciding how one wants to spend one’s money.
The hearing was a great opportunity to reflect on what the EU is currently working on and what it needs to address. This was an aspect of the process of developing a framework for accessibility, which is essential as Jean Eric Paquet, Director of European Mobility Network at DG Move, mentioned: The EU needs to develop a framework for accessibility. As the disabled community develops a unified approach to accessibility, EU will be able to address more accessibility issues. However, it means EU will need to implement legislations regarding to accessibility, especially UNCRPD. With accessibility, the deaf community will see opportunities grow.
Economic & Social Committee:
The Employment Situation of People with a Disability Hearing:
INI Report on Mobility and Inclusion of People with Disabilities:
For the PDF file, please click here.