This side event shed light on the necessary instruments, knowledge and resources to implement accessibility policies in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The discussions focused on how to bridge the gap between the legislation and the real impact on the everyday lives of persons with disabilities. To ensure correct implementation of accessibility legislation and build the capacity of both the public and the private sectors, certain initiatives and centres like the US Access Board, the Polish Access Board or the future AccessibleEU Centre (the Centre) can be crucial in turning accessibility laws into realities, and in bringing together accessibility professionals and the lived experiences of persons with disabilities. Director of the European Disability Forum (EDF), Ms Catherine Naughton, moderated the discussion.
The Executive Director of the US Access Board, Mr Sachin Dev Pavithran, opened the discussion saying that we must define what accessibility is, after which we can work on standards and guides. Mr Dev Pavithran explained that a great deal of the process involves working with the federal partners in the US Government, as well as with other stakeholders.
Ms Naughton asked Ms Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, Senior Expert in the Unit for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the European Commission, ‘what the Commission is planning to do to support and expand the implementation of the European Accessibility Act (EAA)?’ Ms Placencia Porrero answered that there are a number of new rules with a focus on IT, transport, and the built environment, explaining that this is the moment for implementation. It is important to ensure that the knowledge of accessibility is growing in the EU, and to raise awareness of the EAA. Ms Placencia Porrero stressed the need to invest in creating a community of practice.
In order to provide a helpful European model upon which to draw inspiration from for the future EU Centre, Mr Przemyslaw Herman, Deputy Director Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy for the Polish Access Board, provided some insights. Mr Herman said that the Polish Access Board was inspired by the US Access Board. In Poland, there are almost 5 million persons with disabilities. In 2018, they realised they needed a national accessibility programme. The Polish Access Board is based on two pillars – one is a unit in the Department of Funds, and the other is the Accessibility Council which consists of 50 experts from different sectors, mostly persons with disabilities, they council and give advisory to the Ministry as to how to implement the programme. The Board develops standards and guidelines, especially for access officers who are in the government units. There is much cooperation with persons with disabilities as they are their main source of information, in terms of the challenges they face in the public space. Finally, Poland adopted an accessibility law in 2019.
Ms Roxana Widmer-Iliescu, Senior Coordinator for Digital Inclusion. International Telecommunication Union, explained that their target is to ensure accessible digital environments for all persons, including persons with disabilities, by 2023. They would like full participation in the digital environment. IT accessibility is a powerful enabler to ensure that everyone can be included. Their target is to mainstream IT accessibility, cross-sectoral, and at all levels. ‘ICT for all’ are their regional accessible forums, here they share face to face knowledge, and challenges. They also monitor accessibility legislation implementation. Ms Widmer-Iliescu mentioned that to support all their members’ efforts for the digital inclusion of person with disabilities, they have developed over 60 resources in multiple languages, in digitally accessible formats.
Ms Jennifer Chadwick, Senior Accessibility Consultant for Siteimprove, outlined the automated scanning platform they developed for the ongoing monitoring of web projects in terms of assessing how accessible a site is. Ms Chadwick explained that they have a procurement process template including the steps to implement accessibility. One gap they recognise in the organisations they work with is ownership and accountability, as accessibility is still an afterthought, therefore, they regularly do trainings on this.
Member of the European Parliament Katrin Langensiepen (Greens/EFA political grouping) provided an update of the European Parliament’s progress on accessibility. There is currently a file on accessibility in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee and, as it stands, there is broad agreement on this file. There is a vote after the summer break on the Centre. However, Ms Langensiepen mentioned that they will need the funds for the Centre, as well as the resources.
Mr Alejandro Moledo, Deputy Director and Head of Policy, EDF, gave a brief update on the disability movement’s involvement with supporting the development of the Centre. Discussions have been ongoing in terms of plans for the Centre, however, within the disability movement, we had to balance expectations as the Centre will not be an agency. Mr Moledo added that the standardisation system in the EU is not inclusive of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations. Importantly, all stakeholders must be involved in the Centre, persons with disabilities, Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs), academia, etc. Mr Moledo emphasised the need to involve all Member States, for instance, with Poland and their Access Board, as this connection is fundamental for the success of the Centre.
Mr Axel Leblois, President and CEO of G3ICT and International Association of Accessibility Professionals, discussed Article 9 of the UNCRPD, on accessibility, in relation to the Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation (DARE) Index. Mr Leblois said that, in his organisation, they started 12 years ago on the matter of accessibility and have done extensive research to build this Index. It is a human rights monitoring tool for State Parties of the CRPD which measures the commitment of Member States, their capacity, and the outcomes. They have identified 5 key elements for success for Member States – 1. a government body that is designated to protect the rights of persons with disabilities; 2. an entity in the government that has expertise in digital accessibility; 3. a national commitment to digital accessibility standards; 4. courses on accessibility in universities or professional training; 5. participation of persons with disabilities in developing and monitoring policy on digital accessibility. Mr Leblois emphasised the fifth aspect, saying that the Centre will not be a success if persons with disabilities are not involved in the process.