On March 31st, EUD joined the conference “Disability Rights, Accessibility and Artificial Intelligence” organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF). The event was an important occasion to discuss how to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities when it comes to the development and utilisation of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The meeting was opened by a short video of the EU Commissioner for Equality, Ms Helena Dalli, in which she stated the commitment of the European Union (EU) to ensuring inclusive and accessible policies for persons with disabilities in the digitalization process. This was also echoed by Ms Camilla Waltersson Grönvall, Swedish Minister of Social Affairs, within the priorities of the Swedish presidency of the EU.
During the first part of the event, the discussion focused on important topics such as political actions undertaken in AI accessibility by the EU, the implementation of the CRPD on AI, and the involvement of persons with disabilities. In this regard, it is important to highlight the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Mr Gerard Quinn – who stressed the role of the EU in ensuring AI accessibility. Nevertheless, Mr Quinn also stressed the lack of accessibility in certain areas – in particular, the EU’s lack of recognition of its national sign languages at the European level. Moreover, among the issues that hinder the complete inclusion of persons with disabilities in AI and other fields, Mr Alejandro Moledo – Deputy Director at EDF – highlighted the lack of political will at national level.
In addition to this, the meeting provided valuable insights on the AccessibleEU Centre – a flagship initiative of the EU Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021 – 2030 – which aims to build a Centre gathering experts on accessibility, including in relation to AI.
EUD appreciates the awareness this event raised of this important topic. Persons with disabilities face several obstacles when using AI, despite the implementation at EU level of provisions like the Europese toegankelijkheidswet or the Web Accessibility Directive.
Accordingly, EUD calls on the implementation of measures ensuring access for deaf persons to AI; as stated in the EUD Position Paper on Accessibility of Information and Communication, the increasing amount of speech-based technologies and virtual assistance based on voice recognition excludes deaf users. EUD calls for institutions and technologies developers to finance inclusive research and political measures for inclusive AI for deaf persons.