Mark: Hello, can I have everyone’s attention?
Now, I hope you enjoyed your lunch. You had your chance to network, catch up, make new friends. And you got to enjoy the demonstration. We decided to have more time for networking and making new friends. Again I’d like to say a thank you to Microsoft to host this and to host lunch and for the demonstration.
I know some of you had the opportunity to use the reality glasses. Maybe another time at Microsoft.
Now we have 2 incredibly important speakers ahead of us. Both of them incredibly knowledgeable in European legislation. European Accessibility act. They are vital speakers for us to understand what is happening at the moment. I’d like to remind, we will have our fireside chat for you to have questions and comments for speakers.
I would like to introduce the special advisor to the Commission for the unit of disability and inclusion, social affairs. I’d like to welcome Inmaculada Placencia Porrero.
– Good. Thank you.
So, we have I think about 20 minutes. Is that correct?
So, let me say that I was really happy to see the demonstrations before this speech. Because they really show that technology is not an issue anymore. And it gives me on one hand the feeling of relief. Thinking, wow, is there. At the other hand a lot of responsibility. Technology is there, now we have to ensure that it is going to be used and in an accessible manner. And it is going to be available and that it is going to be known. This is why a couple of years ago we started working on the Accessibility Act.
I still remember the days when technology was a problem. I started working on research on assistive technology when the first Windows came out. We had research having camera’s capturing the screen in order to recognize whether the symbol was an icon or menu to give feedback to the users. But that luckily is old history. And we are really having a lot of opportunities today. We still have some challenges. At the end of my presentation I would like to refer to them. But before that I’m going to try to walk you through the European Accessibility Act.
We started formally working on it in 2010 when we launched the European Disability Strategy. I have to say that a lot of the inspiration came from the technological developments, research programs that the Commission had been financing. And the prototypes that were developed. It showed the potential of accessibility. And the need address accessibility in a coherent framework from policy perspective. Of course, the push of the convention in terms of the concept of disability and the role that barriers in the environment play in the concept of accessibility helped us to develop the concepts of accessibility and the need of having an accessibility act that helped to remove those barriers.
So in 2010 we committed to do the Act. To propose an act. And we did so in 2015. December 2015.
Why the Accessibility Act came. It was also because we saw that making products and services accessible was a demand that was emerging in many member states. We were really very concerned of the harm that divergent legislation could do in the market. And we tried to have common solutions at European level in order to have more accessible products of more competitive prices. Also, it was a way for member states to implement article 9 of the convention.
I guess all of you have heard of the Accessibility Act by now. What I’ll try to do is to give you an understanding of 2 things. The essence of the act as well as the elements which are most relevant for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, given the audience of today.
The act is very simple. You might hear a lot of people say, it is a complex instrument. The philosophy at least is simple. We set accessibility requirements for certain products and services. Then we used the same accessibility requirements to buy accessible public administrations or finance and support through EU funds products, services. And we used the same requirements. Why is that? Because in that way we can harmonize the market. We give an opening to the whole European market. And we give consistency for economic operators as well as for public administrators and users.
We know what aspect. That is important.
So, the first leg of the act. Which products and services do we have? We have there computers and operating systems. ATM’s, telephones and smartphones, tv’s, and then services. Telephony services, audio visual media services, transport, banking, e-books and e-commerce. I have to say, if I look to this scope there are a number of products or services that really come out as priorities for this audience. We have got telephones and smartphones. The issue of communication barriers, removal of communication barriers across the EU is still an issue. At the beginning I was saying technology is not a problem. We don’t have a simple realtime text service that interoperates across all member states. We don’t have that provision being used, service being used for access to 112. Is technology the issue? I hope it is clear now that not. And we need to ensure implementation, service provision, awareness in order to make it a reality.
Tv. The issue of subtitles. And captioning. Remains still. While we have seen it today. You can do it real time in all the languages. It is still an issue. I know there are apps developed. You can really take your own subtitles and synchronize at the same time.
This is the first leg. The second leg of the act is public procurement. The same requirements. Structural funds, structure infrastructure.
How does it work? What does the accessibility act, how it operates? I refer to the functional requirements. We have a reward to put it that way. If we can call it that way. For those economic operators that fulfill those requirements. guaranteeing the free movement of products and services across EU markets. We have in the act a process oriented enforcement. We start it a simple way. What is it? Being sure that the requirements are fulfilled. What do you do? What instruments do you provide to make sure? First is simple. Self declaration. We trust that the economic operators will declare that they comply with those requirements. But of course, it is a very light option. Which is complemented by checks. And who does those checks? Is what we call the market surveillance authorities. A public authority that will be checking that those products and services claim to comply are complying and if not they will take action. In addition, if this is not enough and users, consumers see that there is a problem still, they can take action. They can take action, administrative or in front of the court, in order to demand the compliance with the directive.
Now, the tool, the legal tool is really based on the internal market.
This means that we use existing instruments there. Like I mentioned the market surveillance in order to ensure that the legislation works.
It means that we do not prescribe for example, we use internal market’s new approach. And this means that we remain in the legislation at a high level of functional requirements. And then, we use standards to provide a way of complying on those requirements.
It is very important. The requirements we put in the legislation are functional. Yet, they need to be detailed enough in order to know what the legislation requires.
The standards provide 1 way of fulfilling. And they remain voluntary instruments. The act does not prescribe those technical solutions. We are concerned about the way of innovating. We see that the requirements that we have a lot of what is being shown today and in the future hopefully is implementable.
We have a safeguard. In fact 2 safeguards in the legislation. One is that the accessibility requirements being implemented in mainstream products should not propose a disproportionate burden. The second one is fundamental alteration. Mainstream product remains a meanstream product and the character and nature of that product or service does not need to, cannot be required to be changed because of accessibility. It should be one of the features that enriches the product but cannot fundamentally change the nature. And, what the act does not do is, it does not amend sectorial legislation. For example in the area of transport, but also telecommunication and audiovisual media. Alejandro who will speak after me will tell you how it relates to those legal acts. Let me tell, we have been working with the legal acts. We have over 30 legislations that we need to complement and be compatible with.
Let me move to a couple of words about the standardisation work.
As I said, the accessibility act proposes the use of harmonised standards. And also provides the possibility of using technical specifications. In principle we will ask in the way that the internal market operates for standards to be developed. And we will be building on existing work. We already have. The result of a mandate from the Commission. From 2005. Mandate 376. It is very well aligned also at international level with what is in the US.
In addition that there is a new mandate, 554. Which builds on that standard to have the web accessibility directive. To support the web accessibility directive. Let me mention the one on the built environment. The issue of signaging, issue of orientation. It is also very important for this audience.
And then, another standard that we are developing, we asked for is addressing accessibility for design for all. A standard that aims to do 2 things. One, develop a process of how to incorporate accessibility. Either in the manufacturing or the service provision. So the end result will be accessible. The products and services will be accessible. The other leg that the standard has is to ensure that accessibility is dealt with in a standardisation. Whenever there is a mainstream standard that then accessibility is dealt with. I want to highlight the importance of this. Many of the technological developments when they come, there is very little thought about accessibility. We are hoping to influence that process through the standardisation. Today there are standards developed for start cities, developed for blockchain. Every new technological development, is accessibility there? This would be my question. It is very important to put it.
So, we are already working on those standardisations in parallel to the adoption of the directive. Now we have entered in a period which we call the trilogues when each of the EU institutions, Commission, Parliament and Council enters the discussions with their own positions. Aiming to have, to reach agreement. To have an agreement.
The accessibility act has been declared priority file for the 3 institutions this year. We are full of confidence that we will be able to reach that agreement.
Let me say once we have reached the agreement. The proposal for the Commission says we have 2 years for transposition. Member states will write their act in the own legislation. Before obligation we have 6 years. We need to be looking at the technology 6 years from now. We can look to the products and services that will be in the market in the next 6 years.
So there is time. There is time to implement accessibility.
And there is time to ensure that new developments contain accessibility.
Let me to finish very briefly tell a couple of things about the requirements and in relation to the telephony services and telephones themselves.
The requirements of the accessibility act impose are functional. But there are also a lot of requirements for information.
We ask that users will be informed about the functioning of the products and services. In accessible formats. So that you know how the product functions. In the demo done before there was the issue, you have a good feature in a product. And people don’t know that it exists even. That’s a problem. We want that there is a lot of awareness raising about existence. We also want to have a clear description and accessible description of the accessibility features of the product.
And the service. This is two requirements that are essential for consumers to make their preferred choice.
Then, we have requirements for the user interface. Very important. So that there is flexibility at the end. There is choice. There is the possibility of personalisation and configuration. When you look at the requirements basically, they reflect that diversity in choice of use. And that diversity in the conditions, in which products and services are used.
And then we have a specific requirement that are being discussed for particular services. In the Council proposal this is spelled out. This is where we come in the area of telecommunications to the use of realtime text, video, using total conversation. For example the fact that emergency communications, total conversation is needed. And this is the type of things we are going to be discussing with Parliament and Council.
As I said, technology is there and is not a problem anymore.
So now the matter is to reach concensus of what is going to be used. But we need to be sure and this is also something that the Accessibility act does. It imposes requirements for interoperability across services, interoperability also across assistive technology and mainstream technology. Interoperability and consistency.
We have seen today that more and more this assistive features incorporated in mainstream. Not only persons with disabilities but general population can benefit from those features. But we need to make sure that in future generations of technologies these issues are not forgotten. Let me share with you. In 2003 the Commission, I was in a conference organised by EUD. In which my Commissioner then presented very proud the harmonisation of a frequencyband for assistive listening devices. The band was there. This was great, because in all, you are in an airport, classroom. The same frequencies would be used for your assistive listening device. Today the day we are discussing how to keep that frequencyband available for assistive listening devices. Technology has evolved so much. The speed of the transmissions, if we are not careful, what we hear from users. There is a problem. That band can be overtaken by other technological applications leaving persons who are using assistive listening devices with not quality signal.
So we need to be alert. We need to setup a policy framework to avoid that we forget also to keep accessibility implemented and in force. We need to prevent accessibility barriers. As I am here with Microsoft I always put, Christmas has gone, we can put Christmas presents for next year. Wishes.
It is great what has been done to put the checker more visible. What really, I’m talkng about public administration. Organisation that is producing a lot of webpages, documents. Is that you guide people. Whenever I talk to people about accessibility and we tell the people, you need to make your Word document accessible. To make sure, when you transfer, they are accessible. Now what we understand, we can check that. What people are asking me is, tell me how? Give me a button I can press. I don’t need to think. The document will come out and tell me, now you need to give me the description of the picture. This is the suggested structure for the document. Give me the title. It will be accessible.
So that, guiding the user is something that I think will really help all of us to achieve more accessibility. When we make a web page. People are really eager to make accessibility. But how to anticipate? How to make sure that process that is supported in that process is an important issue.
We have artificial intelligence. We have seen it. It can look at a document and even self correct the document in advance.
This is what I wanted to share with you about the accessibility act, the content, the reasons. And we’ll have time for questions afterwards if you want me to go into details in any of the points.
Mark: Thank you very very much, Ima.
For your brilliant presentation.