One of the flagship initiatives of the new EU Disability Rights Strategy is the creation in 2022 of a resource centre for accessibility called AccessibleEU. We don’t know much about it, but one thing is clear, this is the European Commission picking up (in a soft manner) one of the most ambitious and applauded proposals put forward by EDF and its members: a new EU regulatory agency for accessibility similar to the US Access Board. Will a resource centre be as impactful as an agency? Definitely not, but let’s make the best out of it because the stakes are high.
In recent years the EU has finally adopted quite a number of laws and technical standards setting up a new ecosystem for accessibility. The European Accessibility Act, Web Accessibility Directive, Directives on audiovisual media and electronic communications, technical specifications for railway stations and vehicles to name a few concrete examples. Besides, general rules for public procurement and use of EU funds also require taking accessibility into consideration. The problem, as always, was and is implementation. Because applying accessibility in practice is not easy.
Public authorities (particularly those monitoring or enforcing accessibility laws), persons with disabilities through their representative organisations, accessibility professionals and the private sector should work together to ensure a coherent approach to all the accessibility policies we have now in place in the EU. And to do so, we all need access to relevant knowledge and a forum to put information in common. In short, this will be the purpose of the AccessibleEU resource centre: “to share good practices across sectors, to inspire policy development at national and EU level, as well as to develop tools and standards aiming to facilitate implementation of EU law”.
But again, as with many other initiatives in the new Strategy, we lack details. We really hope the AccessibleEU will not be one of those tasteless and toothless meetings that bring people together once per year and ciao. It is absolutely necessary that the Commission (and Member States) allocate financial and human resources to this centre.
Sharing good practices is fine, but focused work across sectors is even more important. This is why the AccessibleEU centre should have different “departments” or “subgroups”, one per domain: built environment, transport, media, ICT, etc. The more specialised (and knowledgeable members) it gets on the different areas, the better results it will produce.
And by results we mean not only the tools and standards to support implementation of accessibility legislation (by the way, so necessary to have a neutral way of developing accessibility standards!), but also supporting enforcement and monitoring of these accessibility laws, developing trainings, conducting meaningful research and studies, coordinating with key European bodies (for example the agencies on rail and electronic communications) as well as with other accessibility players in and beyond Europe. It can also help the EU and national institutions to become more accessible themselves.
The possibility and challenges for the AccessibleEU centre are countless. We expect that the European disability movement will be invited to shape and contribute to this very much needed knowledge centre for accessibility, the first of its kind at EU level. But once again, it success will depend on the political will and resources invested. To be continued in 2022.
Article written by Alejandro Moledo
Alejandro Moledo, Head of Policy