I want to give a very warm welcome to everyone today. I want to welcome you to ACT!. Accessibility, communication, technology today.
To proceed, I want to warmly welcome the opening speaker. From the European Commission, Head of Unit of Disability and Inclusion, mrs. Emmanuelle Grange. I have been working closely with her for a long time. Please, Emmanuelle, if you come to the stage.
Ms. Grange: Good morning. Thanks Mark for your kind invitation. It took me a little time to say yes. Because I thought, oh my God, I’m much too blond to speak in front of Microsoft. I’m not so fond of technologies and not so much gifted. Let’s take the challenge anyway if I can. I’m very pleased to be with you today. I will try to have a general speech of the context which we are. I know you know a lot of stuff what I’m going to talk about. Nevertheless, it is a wrap up before you jump into more precise and concrete issues.
First of all, as you all know, the work we are doing at the European Commission is done in the framework of legal obligations, commitments we have taken with the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. And in the case of accessible communication article 9 of the convention.
We also work in the context, in the more larger context of the Sustainable development goals that also touch the policy in the rights of persons with disabilities and we try to conform and implement all the commitments we have taken.
More specifically, as you all know also, we work in the context of the European disability strategy for 2010-2020. And we will have to work and have started on the next strategy. In the context in the current one we are as you know negotiating the European Accessibility Act. It contains focus on electronic communication, we have issues on emergency services. Where you have a strong input in electronic communication. And we will start the trilogue on the 5th of March with the Parliament and the Council. If you have seen the report of the Parliament and the general approach of the Council, you know that we are discussing on some major issues.
That will really have an impact on the final document that will be adopted. For the moment, we will try during the trilogue to find the right balance between the specific and values needs of persons, with disabilities in terms of accessibility and also the capacity for industry and public administration to keep innovating, investing and being able to manage these changes. I know for us it is very obvious when we talk about accessibility, accessible communication, we always talk about innovation. For us it goes together. But maybe it is not always obvious for everybody. And the first red light we always saw during the discussions were the costs of innovation, investment and the price to be paid for accessibility. We think that there is a return on investment that is much higher than the cost. But, of course, it is a bet on the future. The American experience showed that we were right in proposing this act and profitable at the end for everybody. We will have discussions, an artritrage on the scope to be covered. Do we want transport in? Do we want public tenders? Do we want tourism? Local transport? Well, lots of issues of this kind will be still discussed with very different approach from the Council and the Parliament.
And medium term will be found in a way or another. I’m summarizing all the points we still have to discuss on the basis of the 2 official documents adopted by both institutions. But non neglectable aspect will be the implementation of the Accessibility Act. Ie, do we go for functional requirements? Or do we go for performance criteria? It looks very technical, it is technical. But the concrete implementation of the Accessibility Act, the scope at the end will depend also on the decisions there.
So, as you know the discussions were long and tough, inside both institutions during the last 2 years. We have accomplished a lot of progress. And we are very grateful for the work that has been undertaken by the different successive presidencies and the rapporteur, the shadow rapporteurs. There has been a lot of work done on both sides. We saw a lot of commitment for reaching an agreement inside each institution. There is also a lot of will for reaching an agreement this year. We have good hope that we will manage to have an Accessibility Act adopted still in 2018. And that we will be able then to work on its transposition and implementation.
But we are counting a lot on the civil society to keep on showing themselves if I can say during the debate. And to be active.
But of course there is not only the Accessibility Act. There are a lot of things we still need to work on. For example the transposition of the web directive, which is also dealing with accessible communication. The audiovisual media services directive. The Ecode, the same thing. And we have a lot of issues related to accessible communication, accessibility in general.
And moreover, still in the legal framework, we have now the European pillar of social rights, to implement. With article 17 saying that people, persons with disabilities have the right to services that enable them to participate in the labor market and in society. And work environment adopted to their needs. I hope I’m not going to fast? Good.
And so, okay, thanks. This pillar, it is not only the project of the Commission and not only adopted and proclaimed by the member states. It has to be implemented by all stakeholders. This article 2, article 17, that is important for my services and the Commission in general. It means member states have to find ways for implementing these principles. And this one in particular. Civil society, everybody has to contribute to the pillar in the coming years or decades. Accessible communication will be key for implementing, having a work environment which is accessible. Accessible services, etc. This is why it is so important to keep progressing in this area.
So we have a lot of challenge in front of us. Not only on the legal side. I have to say that it is for me and for us, more general worldwide context. First we have a fierce competition, not saying a fight on the international market for assistive technologies.
We have to face it. Lots of improvements. Improvements of living conditions at stake through assistive technologies. There is also a lot of money and a lot of power.
So, we have to keep… Sorry. Breaking everything already. No.
So, this is a context that we have to keep in mind. And to be sure to take into account in all our discussions, negotiations, including in the trade area.
The other context we have in front of us. The future of work.
It is a debate which is quite huge. Very difficult. What will be the work of tomorrow? And it is a debate we have started already in DG Empl and the commission. It contains a lot of opportunities for people with disabilities through assistive technologies, accessibility, accessible communication etc.
It has opportunities that can allow better integration in the work environment, in the professional life for persons with disabilities. It also contains a lot of risk in terms of exclusion of persons. Not only persons with disabilities but a lot of people.
We have to keep that in mind to ensure that the future works. That we have in Europe and the world in general. Remains inclusive.
But it means facing, debating a lot of political, social, economic challenges. And to be able to face very deep changes in all societies in the coming decades. As I said, it is a debate we have taken on board already.
So at the end I think, I am going to do more, too philosophical for an official of the Commission. I’m afraid we have philosophical debate in front of us. What world do we want? What future do we want? Do we want a world that is dominated by technologies with human beings that have to bow before the technology and adopt to it at any price? And it really makes me think about a lot of science fiction movies I have seen when I was younger. Matrix and things like that. It is not very funny perspectives that would be in front of us. Or do we want a world where technology serves people. It helps them. Help them in all parts of their life, professional and personal. Allow inclusion in the society. And leaves no one behind. I hope really, truly, that we will be able to go for the second option and keep our human values deep inside us and in our actions for our future world and for the next generations and that we will be able to make all these kind of science fiction movies I was referring to what they were supposed to be, a fantasy. And we have another future in front of us. It is up to us, public administration, civil society, industry, business to make our choices and to work together for reaching our goal and have a better and inclusive future. I hope I was not too long. Thank you very much for your attention. (applause)