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Exclusive: EU Set To Ditch Rules On Accessible Goods

The European Union looks set to backtrack on proposed legislation that would have required accessibility to disabled people of all manufactured consumer goods, from digital televisions to washing machines, E-Access Bulletin has learned.

A Brussels meeting this week is expected to confirm changes to the draft Equal Treatment Directive (ETD), first proposed by the European Commission in 2008 to ban discrimination in access to goods and services, as set out in its full title: Proposal for a Council Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation
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In its original form, the directive would have required that all devices should be accessible, and for example could not be controlled solely by touch-screen controls or visual displays inaccessible to blind people.

Since 2008, however, member states have amended the text to remove any specific requirement. Article 4, point 3 in the latest set of amendments (available in pdf only at ) says:“This Directive shall not apply to the design and manufacture of goods”. The new version says simply that member states should take into account “measures to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities … [and] promote the research and development of universally designed goods, promote their availability and use, and promote universal design in the development of standards and guidelines.” However, details of what forms such action should take are not specified.

The new version to be discussed in Brussels is supported by a majority of EU member states including the UK. A small number of states, including Austria, have spoken out against the reduced proposals however, and for the directive to become law, unanimous agreement will have to be reached.

Carine Marzin, European campaigns officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), told E-Access Bulletin that continued reliance on the goodwill of manufacturers to deliver accessible manufactured goods to the market will not solve the problem. “In practice, nothing will change if member states are not willing to address this issue through legislation,” Marzin said. “This is a unique opportunity to end the discrimination that many disabled people experience when trying to access goods, an opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.”

For its part, the European Blind Union (EBU) says failure to implement the accessibility proposals as originally drafted could jeopardise trade with areas outside of Europe which may have more stringent rules in place (see EBU response in Microsoft Word format at: ).
In the US, for example, a proposed law aims to force manufacturers to create accessible consumer technology products (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 122 – ).

A joint campaign to oppose the UK’s position on the ETD has now been launched by a group of UK disability charities: ).


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