This Summer, EUD attended the EU Accessibility Summit which took place across 2 days – 31st May to 2nd June 2022. The Summit was hosted by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and sponsored by Microsoft. Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, opened day 1 of the Summit with the statement “Accessibility is a precondition for participation in society.” Commissioner Dalli also highlighted that the Commission plans to launch an EU resource centre in 2022 – AccessibleEU, which will provide information on accessibility across centres and is a flagship initiative under the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030.
Panel Discussion: Accessible ICT in Emergency Situations:
EUD Executive Director, Mark Wheatley, participated as a panellist in this discussion. Mr Wheatley underlined the issue that we often see technology advancing quickly however there aren’t necessarily the supports working in parallel with these advances. For instance, in Ukraine, there may be VRI (video relay interpreting services) but whilst it is good that these services are available, there is a gap in the understanding of how these services are used. Accordingly, there are practical implementation problems.
Stefanie Dannenmann-Di Palma, External Relations Director at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, explained that, in emergency situations, inclusivity and accessibility with early warnings and actions is a major concern. For example, different communication forms are not available, such as sign languages. Therefore, capacity building is required in terms of consulting persons with disabilities, whilst also informing government representatives.
The moderator asked – ‘what is needed to ensure that, at the national and EU level, emergency communication platforms are fully accessible?’ Mr Wheatley responded by emphasising the importance of the EU Accessibility Act (EEA) and the need for national laws’ compliance with it. Mr Wheatley continued that a critical issue felt within deaf and disabled communities is the need for harmony across the EU so there are standardised criteria for roaming. For example, there shouldn’t be different 112 systems. Another panellist mentioned that this year, the World Federation of the Deaf announced a working group on disaster reduction which is a good example of a DPO collaborating with government representatives.
A further question asked by the moderator – ‘what should the tech industry be doing in ensuring that platforms are accessible?’ One panellist replied that, as part of the deaf and hard of hearing community, the tech industry could offer support by making real time text mainstream, such as automatic captions, however this service isn’t always available nor is the option for sign interpretation.
Panel Discussion – “AccessibleEU Centre & International Perspective”:
Alejandro Moledo, Head of Policy, EDF, explained that EDF has been advocating for a European agency, so it is very positive to see this flagship proposal of the AccessibleEU centre. However, it would only be a true success if, when the funding for the centre diminishes, that the Member States and Commission are still eager to fund it again in order to make it grow. Mr Moledo underlined that accessibility isn’t a black and white issue, but rather it has several nuances, differences and perspectives. Therefore, there is a need to facilitate an understanding of accessibility in order to advance altogether. This will help the EU to define accessibility across Member States.
Katarina Ivankovic-Knezevic, Director of DG EMPL, (Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission), provided a brief outline of the AccessibleEU centre. It will be a platform for exchanging information, training, informing Member States, outlining accessibility standards, knowledge gathering, as well as implementation aspects. There is a strong need for ensuring that trainings are available in one place to facilitate an understanding of the legislation. Ms Ivankovic-Knezevic also mentioned that DG EMPL has adopted the AccessibleEU Sub-group.