Access denied? EU must ensure accessible digital services for persons with disabilities!

Access denied? EU must ensure accessible digital services for persons with disabilities!

We strongly call on the European co-legislators to ensure accessibility of digital platforms and services, so that European law best serves the interest of all Union citizens, including of more than 100 million EU citizens with disabilities.

At the end of 2020, the European Commission published two awaited proposals for Regulation of digital services and platforms in the EU. The Digital Services Act includes rules for online services, which millions of Europeans use every day. These are for example, internet access providers, cloud services, online marketplaces, app stores, social media, among other services. The Digital Markets Act aims to regulate so-called “gatekeeper” platforms, based on narrowly defined criteria. These will basically be the biggest players who have significant market power, for example Facebook or Amazon though the list of ‘gatekeepers’ is still to be determined.

The explanatory memorandums for the Proposals make references to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and mention social sustainability. The EU acknowledges the importance of digital technologies in all aspect of modern life, highlighted by the coronavirus crisis, and the dependency of our societies on digital services. The document also claims that “the proposal is also fully consistent and further supports equality strategies adopted by the Commission in the context of the Union of Equality”. In reference to fundamental rights, the memorandum highlights freedom of expression and information, right to non-discrimination and protection of personal data and privacy. Lastly, it appreciates that “specific groups or persons may be vulnerable or disadvantaged in their use of online services,” noting disability as one of the grounds.

Therefore, having provided feedback to the European Commission’s public consultation on the Digital Services Act package, we are surprised and disappointed with the disregard of accessibility of digital services and platforms for persons with disabilities in the EU proposals. The proposed legal texts make no reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) which the EU is bound to implement through initiatives such as the two proposed Regulations. There is also no mention of EU legislation aiming to advance accessibility, notably the European Accessibility Act and the Web Accessibility Directive, which creates inconsistency of existing and new Union legislation.

It is important to understand that lack of accessibility of online platforms and digital services will reinforce and create new barriers for millions of persons with disabilities in the digital domain. Therefore, we call on the EU to ensure:

  • Accessibility of all digital services and platforms for persons with disabilities;
  • Mainstreaming of accessibility throughout the legal texts, so that information, feedback and complaints mechanisms, dispute settling systems, public reports of services and national authorities, stakeholder-engagement platforms at national and EU-level are accessible as well;
  • Consistency with relevant international and Union legal frameworks, particularly with the UN CRPD and European Accessibility Act;
  • Meaningful engagement with persons with disabilities in structures aimed at facilitating the implementation of the current Regulations, for example in the European Board for Digital Services, or when drawing up codes of conduct and crisis protocols;
  • Effective data collection and reporting: Data on infringement of accessibility requirements under this Regulation should be reported by intermediary services to competent authorities, and included in the annual reports of these authorities in order to assess the effectiveness of this Regulation as regards ensuring accessibility of digital platforms and services for persons with disabilities.


Mher Hakobyan, EDF Accessibility Officer