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17 November 2010

EU disability strategy to help 80 million citizens

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Some 80 million EU citizens are having difficulty using public buildings, facilities and services such as shops, transport and websites because they have some kind of disability

To address this situation, the European Commission this week (15 November) launched a 10-year strategy to improve accessibility and promote equality.

The European Disability Strategy sets out a series of actions to improve equality for people with disabilities and break down barriers that prevent them from fully enjoying their rights as citizens and consumers.

"To fully participate in our society and economy, people with disabilities need to have easier access to public buildings, public transport and to digital services," said Viviane Reding, the European Commission's vice-president in charge of justice, fundamental rights and citizenship.

Focus on accessibility

Making sure that public buildings, facilities and services are accessible for people with all different kinds of disabilities is an area where there is still a lot of progress to be made. According to the Commission, "accessibility is a precondition for participation in society and in the economy, but the EU still has a long way to go in achieving this".

To make it easier for disabled persons to get around by themselves, there is a need to improve the accessibility of transport and public buildings.

The EU executive is looking at ways to integrate common standards into public procurement processes and may also draft new legislation.

Indeed, EU officials concede that the existing rules may not be enough. Consultations will be initiated with member states and other stakeholders, including disability NGOs. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, the draft text of a 'European Accessibility Act' could be presented in 2012 or 2013.

Enabling persons with disabilities to participate fully in the information society is identified as a key priority, tying in with the EU's Digital Agenda. Technologies already exist that allow blind or visually-impaired people to access information on the Internet, for example by converting text into Braille or audible speech. However, at present only 5% of public websites are fully compliant with web accessibility standards.


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