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Disability Policy Blog
Welcome to the Disability Policy Blog!
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Welcome to the Disability Policy Blog! This first blog entry and associated article explore the European Union's approach to accessibility. Readers are encouraged to post their comments and feedback on its contents and to launch discussions on legislative and regulatory actions that are taking place in different countries around the world.
Introduction to "European Disability Strategy and Accessibility"
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The European Year of People with Disabilities in 2003 brought European citizens to think about disability rights. Although European Union (EU) Member States are mainly responsible for disability measures, the EU regulatory bodies also play a major role in complementing and enhancing national measures, while fostering the conditions needed for further progress.
The Commission’s 2003 Communication entitled "Establishing Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities: A European Action Plan 2003-2010" (COM/2003/650) provides the framework within which the Commission Disability Action Plan will be developed. The framework of the action plan identifies three main operational objectives, which are to underpin the development of the plan in the following successive phases by the year 2010:
· Full application of the Antidiscrimination Employment legislation
· Mainstreaming of disability issues in relevant Community policies and processes
· Improvement of accessibility for all To this end, the EU seeks the active inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of society. The EU considers disability to be a human rights issue – not a matter of discretion. This human rights approach is also at the core of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the European Community actively supports. The Commission’s 2005 Communication entitled "The Situation of Disabled People in the Enlarged European Union: The European Action Plan for 2006-2007" (COM/2005/604) reported on the achievements in the first phase of the European Action Plan and defined new priorities for the following years.
Encouraging activity including employment and participation in society
Promoting access to quality support and care services
Fostering accessibility of goods and services
Increasing the EU's analytical capacity
The accessibility of mainstream goods, services, and infrastructures has always been a key component of the European disability strategy. Accessibility to information and communication technology products and services has been fostered through the adoption of various policies, as is described in the e-Accessibility Communication of 2005 (COM/2005/425). In Europe, as in many other places in the world, millions of people cannot fully reap these benefits, while a significant percentage is effectively cut off from them totally. Today, persons with disabilities are estimated to make up close to 15% of the European population. Many of them encounter barriers when trying to use ICT products and services. It is difficult to imagine how persons with disabilities would be able to enjoy their fundamental rights when accessibility to ICT is not a reality.
Access to employment and education, for example, is not possible for persons with disabilities without accessible ICT. The main objective of the 2005 Communication was to promote a consistent approach to e-accessibility initiatives in the Member States based on their voluntary contributions, in order to foster self-regulation in industry. Two years after the publication of the Communication, by the end of 2007, a follow-up assessment on e-accessibility in the various Member States will be made. The Commission may then consider additional measures, including new legislation, if deemed necessary. Regardless of what, if any, legislation is deemed necessary, community action is still the main force needed to ensure the inclusion and participation of all Europeans. In the 2005 Communication, the Commission fosters the use of three approaches not yet widely used in Europe, as well as reinforces several activities that are already underway. The three new approaches are public procurement, conformity assessment, and exploration of legal measures. I will go on to address each approach separately in this order below.
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