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Making the Digital Single Market accessible for persons with disabilities

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On the 22nd of November EUD participated in the event entitled ‘Making the Digital Single Market accessible for persons with disabilities’ at the European Parliament (EP). It was organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the European Parliament’s Disability Intergroup. The event was co-hosted by MEP Olga Sehnalová, and MEP Jana Žitńaská. During the event relevant pieces of European legislation that contribute to making digital single market accessible for persons with disabilities were discussed.

June Lowery-Kingston, Head of Unit on Accessibility, Multilingualism and Safer Internet, DG CNECT, European Commission gave a presentation on the Directive on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies (known as the Web Accessibility Directive) which was adopted in October 2016. The Member States of the EU had to transpose this EU legislation into national law until September 2018. Member States needed to adopt new legislation or to reform existing laws to comply with the provisions of the Web Directive, which ensures that all public sector bodies’ websites and mobile applications are accessible for persons with disabilities. 

Hannele Lahti, Policy Officer, from DG CNECT, European Commission, presented new provisions for end-users with disabilities in the recently revised European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). On the 14th of November 2018 the European Parliament approved revised electronic communications rules. It was presented that the recast of the EECC improved accessibility to electronic communications for end-users with disabilities. Particularly importantly for the deaf community, it created obligations for availability and affordability of accessible emergency services. Article 102 of revised EECC will create requirements for accessible and interoperable emergency communications and the single European emergency call number 112. The text of the EECC approved in the European Parliament needs to be formally adopted in the Council of the EU in December 2018. After the formal adoption, the EECC will enter into force and the transposition period of two years will begin, during which Member States will need to implement the rules into their national laws.

Carla Osman, Legal Officer, DG CNECT, European Commission presented recent developments regarding Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD or AVMS Directive), which aims at ensuring media accessibility for persons with disabilities. It was highlighted that the revised AVMS Directive will include an article on the accessibility of media services, which will be stronger, compared to the article in the previous directive. It will impose an obligation for service providers to ensure their services are gradually and progressively made accessible to people with disabilities including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted. AVMSD will oblige to ensure that accessibility of audio-visual media content through audio description, subtitling, sign language is gradually and progressively increased. The revised AVMS Directive must still be adopted in the Council and once it’s officially published, the transposition period will begin. 

Inmaculada Placencia Porrero, Senior Expert on Disability, Disability and Inclusion Unit, DG EMPL, European Commission presented what are the links between the European Accessibility Act and other pieces of legislation discussed. The provisional agreement on the European Accessibility Act was reached on November 8th by the EU Institutions. Even though the final text is not yet available Mrs Placencia Porrero shared with some insights on how the EAA will complement the revised EECC, the revised AVMSD and the Web Accessibility Directive. For instance, while the EECC contains obligations requiring that the telecom operators make emergency communications available, affordable and accessible for persons with disabilities. The EAA will set the requirements on how to make such emergency communications accessible – it will set obligations for the public sector authorities on how to answer emergency communications in an accessible manner. In relation to AVMSD, the EAA dictates accessibility requirements for access to audio-visual media services and requirements for products to access services, while revised AVMSD sets out obligations for accessibility of the audio-visual content. In relation to Web Accessibility Directive, which creates obligations to public sector websites, the EAA creates some obligations for private sector websites.

EUD is looking forward to formal adoption of the revised EECC, the revised AVMS Directive and the European Accessibility Act so the work on transposition of these European laws can start on the national level.

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