Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Brussels wants standardisation of disabled benefits across Europe

From the EU Observer:

BRUSSELS - The 80-million-or-so EU citizens who suffer from some form of disability should not see their benefits disappear if they cross a border within the EU, the European Commission has said amid plans for a "European Disability Act" to remove barriers by the end of the decade.

"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," justice commissioner Viviane Reding said in Brussels on Monday (15 November).

"We also need to ensure that people do not face additional hurdles when they cross a border: a person with a recognised disability who decides to move to another country should be able to enjoy the same benefits as in his home country, such as a free or reduced-cost public transport," she added.

"My goal is a truly barrier-free Europe for persons with disabilities by 2020."

Ms Reding made the comments as the EU executive adopted its first-ever disabilities strategy.

The plan over the next 10 years will involve mutual recognition across Europe of national disability cards and encouraging standard language around disabilities in public procurement rules.

The commission believes the changes can add an additional €30 billion to the European economy every year on top of improving the quality of life of disabled people.

A study by the UK's Royal National Institute of the Blind suggested that a £35,000 investment by a supermarket chain in making their website more accessible to blind people brought in additional revenue of over £13 million a year. In Germany, a study found that more accessible facilities would increase travel by persons with disabilities, yielding between €620 million and €1.9 billion in additional turnover for the German tourism industry.

"Similar measures have been both a societal and an economic success in the United States," noted Ms Reding.

As part of the overall strategy, the commission will consider whether to pit forward a "European Disability Act" with a 2012 mooted as a potential date for the new bill.

The disability legislation could also unlock progress on the so-called "IVth anti-discrimination directive."

Put forward by the commission in 2008, the directive foresees extending an existing EU-wide ban on discrimination on the basis of disability, gender, race and sexual orientation from the workplace to service providers in general.

The directive has been stuck in inter-governmental talks ever since due, in large part, to Germany's objection that it will create extra costs for small businesses which may be forced to install pricy disabled access at a time of economic downturn.

The European Disability Act could lead to the investments being made in any case.

A commission official in an earlier interview with EUobserver said that EU countries have obliged themselves to make progress in the area by signing up to the UN's 2008 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"With the way the economy is today, people are frightened that voters will say 'Why are we putting another burden on our companies in these difficult times?'" the contact said.

"[But] there are millions of disabled people in the EU waiting for their rights. And there are increasing numbers of people over 70 who don't want to sit at home and watch TV. They want to move around. But if you want to do this in a town like Brussels [which has a poor access to, for example, toilets in bars and restaurants], then ... good luck!"