The indoor and outdoor environment affects the ability of an older person to remain an active participant in society. It is clear that new technologies and improvements in transport and the built environment ave a direct impact on their health and quality of life. An accessible transport and built environment, and user friendly technologies can assist older people in carrying out daily activities as well as monitor their health, create social networks, facilitate their participation in work or volunteer activities and better ensure their safety.
Therefore, AGE Platform Europe calls on the candidate MEPs to:
3.1 Promote accessibility in all areas to support independent living and decrease the cost of dependency on public budgets while improving the quality of life for all, notably by calling for a strong and ambitious European Accessibility Act
Background: The European Commission has published a multiannual European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 whose overarching goal is the continuous and sustainable improvement in the situation of persons with disabilities in economic, social and participatory terms. Accessibility is at the heart of the strategy and is defined as meaning that people with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications technologies and systems (ICT), and other facilities and services in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The midterm evaluation of the Strategy concluded that “tackling accessibility barriers will only be achievable over the long term, which will require ongoing commitment at EU and MS level”. In its work programme 2012, the European Commission has foreseen the adoption of an Accessibility Act, a set of legislative measures to improve access to goods and services for persons with disabilities and elderly persons, based on the concept of Design for All. The proposal has been delayed for more than a year. In December 2013 at the occasion of the EU day for people with disabilities, the European Commission conveyed a high-level meeting with both businesses and civil society representatives to exchange views on the forthcoming Accessibility Act.
AGE Position: Considering the demographic change occurring in Europe today, it is obvious that ensuring the development of an accessible and supportive environment will help reduce the demand on care and assistance for the rapidly growing number of older people. Promoting accessibility in a pro-active way does not hamper the economy, but benefits society and the economy in general by lowering the disability threshold which makes life easier for everyone and supports labour market participation of persons with disabilities and an active and productive participation of older persons in their communities.
3.2 Set accessibility as a pre-condition for all EU funding which supports the development of infrastructure
Background: Accessibility is part of the so-called “ex-ante conditionalities” of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to ensure that any infrastructure, notably for transport and building environment, are not developed without taking into account accessibility which a key element for the active involvement of persons with disabilities and older persons.
AGE Position: Accessibility is an essential prerequisite and it is obvious that any new infrastructure that is developed, especially with the support of EU funding, should be made accessible. It is important to ensure that all EU funding programmes, above all the ERDF, takes into account this dimension to avoid any discrepancy between the EU anti-discrimination policy and other EU policies and initiatives. It is also a clear requirement since the EU has ratified the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities. Taking into account accessibility for any new infrastructure is a human right matter but also economically relevant.
3.3 Support standardisation initiatives as a key tool to enhancing accessibility and design-for-all
Background: The European internal Market comprises an area without internal frontiers in which free movement of goods, services, persons and capital is ensured. Declaration 22 annexed to the final Act of the Amsterdam Treaty provides that the EU Institutions shall take account of the needs of persons with a disability in drawing up policy initiatives. To achieve this it is important that standards describing the characteristics of goods and services in the Internal Market include adequate accessibility provisions and that other provisions in those standards do not introduce accessibility barriers. Standards that consider the diversity of needs of the population and their functional diversity following a Design for All approach will favour the development of products and services that are accessible for all including persons with disabilities and older persons. Design for All aims to enable all people to have equal opportunities to participate in every aspect of society. To achieve this, the built environment, everyday objects, services, culture and information – in short, everything that is designed and made by people to be used by people – shall be safe, accessible, independently usable and convenient for everyone in society to use and responsive to evolving human diversity.
AGE Position: Standardisation is of great importance to improve accessibility since this technical tool can facilitate the development of accessible goods and services from onset. Nevertheless, standards do not go hand in hand with accessibility, since it depends very much on their content and the way they are developed. It is worth noting that countries with high accessibility standards in the build environment, transport and ICT are the countries where the highest levels of employment of both older women and men are found and those which perform best in terms of Healthy Life Year indicators.
The European Commission has issued a mandate – the so-called Mandate 473- to CEN and CENELEC (Two of the European Standardisation Organisations) to mainstream Design for all in the relevant standardisation initiatives, AGE is actively involved in that work which should begin more concretely in the course of 2014.
3.4 Support e- and web-accessibility to enable and further improve access to information and services for all
Background: The European market for web-accessibility related products and services is estimated at EUR 2 billion. It could grow significantly, as less than 10% of websites are accessible. The number of websites providing e-government services (about 380 500 in the EU) and public sector websites (over 761 000 in the EU) is growing rapidly. Most Member States have already either enacted legislation, or taken other measures on web accessibility. However, significant differences exist between these laws and measures.
The non-harmonised national approaches to web-accessibility create barriers in the Internal Market. Therefore, the European Commission published in December 2012 a legislative proposal on the accessibility of public sector websites aiming at harmonising the national measures for the public sector as a necessary condition to put an end to this fragmentation and lack of confidence in the web accessibility market.
AGE Position: In its proposal for a directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites, the European Commission makes recommendations in order to strengthen and harmonize the accessibility of public administration websites within the EU. With the increasing amount of essential data available online, it is crucial to enable everyone to have access to this information. Harmonised rules and procedures will furthermore have positive impact on the economy in reducing costs and facilitating exchanges within the Single market.
AGE has been promoting web accessibility at EU level since this is of key importance to avoid the digital divide among the older population and support seniors’ social inclusion and active participation in society. As for the proposal, AGE has asked for an extension of the scope to really encompass websites which are key for daily life and to make it comprehensive considering the rapid development of the technologies, in particular the increasing use of smart phones.
The results of the first reading vote at the EP in February 2014 were promising and AGE hopes these results will be undertaken by the Council.
3.5 Support the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities as a tool to adapt urban spaces to the needs of the EU’s ageing populations
Background: Launched in July 2012, the European Innovation Partnership for Smart Cities and Communities (EIP SCC) brings together cities, industry and citizens to improve urban life through more sustainable integrated solutions. To do so, it includes applied innovation, better planning, participatory approaches, higher energy efficiency, better transport solutions, intelligent use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), etc. More particularly, it looks to reduce high energy consumption, green-house-gas emissions, bad air quality and congestion of roads, and to overcome bottlenecks impeding the changeover to smart cities, and to help coordinate existing city initiatives and projects, by pooling its resources together.
AGE Position: For AGE this initiative is very complementary to the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, in particular the horizontal action on “age-friendly cities, buildings and environments”. Integration between the smart, sustainable and inclusive dimension would help to deliver better results for citizens and to shape environments answering to the need of an ageing society.
For more information, you may consult the EIP SCC website here.