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Disability and accessibility in the European Union and internationally

In the 28 Member States of the European Union there are up to 80 million people with disabilities or with long-lasting health problems.

At EU and international levels, Austria actively promotes the equality and rights of people with disabilities.

The EU is active in various areas of disability policy. Alongside the European disability strategy, the fields of employment, protection against discrimination and accessibility are particularly important issues.

The European Disability Strategy 2010–2020

On 15 November 2010, the European Commission presented the communication European Disability Strategy 2010–2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe for Disabled Persons.

The aim of the strategy is that people with disabilities can make use of all their rights and fully participate in society and in the European economy. An important focus here is the elimination of barriers.

To this end, the Commission has established eight priority areas:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Participation
  3. Equality
  4. Employment
  5. General and vocational education
  6. Social protection
  7. Health
  8. External action

The strategy includes a list of specific measures including a timeline for their implementation. The list is available in English.

According to the UN Disability Rights Convention, the European Commission is obliged to make regular reports on the progress and results which have been achieved.

EU measures against discrimination

At the level of the European Union, equality and determined action against the discrimination of disabled people is accorded a very high level of importance.

The EU strategy is based on three pillars:

  • the legal provisions and measures of the EU to combat discrimination, which facilitate access to individual rights;
  • the elimination of barriers in the environment which stop disabled people from making use of their abilities, and
  • the inclusion of disability issues in the broad spectrum of Community strategies which facilitate the integration of people with disabilities (disability mainstreaming).

The legal basis for protection against discrimination

Since the coming into effect of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the protection of basic rights has been established in this EU Treaty and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The basis in primary law for combatting discrimination due to a disability is Article 19 of the TFEU (EU anti-discrimination law).

Alongside the primary law treaties of the EU (founding, revision and accession treaties), there is also secondary law. Secondary law consist of EU legislation which has been adopted on the basis of primary law by the organs of the European Union.

Secondary law directives against discrimination

In the field of secondary law, protection against discrimination due to a disability is currently limited to the fields of employment, occupations and vocational training.

In Directive 2000/78/EC establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and instructing others to discriminate against a person due to their religion or views, a disability, age or sexual orientation are prohibited. In addition, it contains special provisions on the promotion of the equal treatment of people with disabilities.

To complete the legal framework of the Community on combating discrimination, on 4 July 2008, the European Commission made a proposal for a Directive on combating discrimination outside the world of work as part of the revised social agenda.

More information on this can be found on the website of the European Commission.

EU measures to promote accessibility

In the field of transport, several passenger regulations have been adopted which have considerably strengthened the rights of people with disabilities in air, railway, ship and coach travel.

In 2016, the Web Accessibility Directive  on the accessibility of websites and mobile phone apps provided by public bodies was adopted.

During the Austrian EU Presidency, the negotiations for a directive on requirements related to the accessibility of products and services were successfully concluded in November 2018. This European Accessibility Act (EAA) will create uniform regulations for the accessible use of certain products and services such as computers, mobile phones, ticket machines in public transport systems, payment terminals and cash machines, e-books and e-commerce. This will make an important contribution towards the breaking down of existing barriers in public life, which is intended to enable people with disabilities to lead independent lives. The EAA was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 7 June 2019.

Disability mainstreaming

EU disability policy is committed to disability mainstreaming – this means that the concerns of people with disabilities have to be considered in all areas of policy. Of particular significance is the application of disability mainstreaming in the legally binding field (Union law), whereby the law on the internal market and transport law play an exemplary role (European Accessibility Act, EU Passenger Rights regulations).

Promotion by the European Social Fund (ESF)

By means of the European Social Fund (ESF) the European Union promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market. In Austria, the Sozialministeriumservice is responsible for the award of subsidies from ESF programmes.

The Operational Programme 2014–2020 can be viewed on the website of the ESF.

Ratification of the UN Disability Rights Convention by the EU

On the basis of a decision by the Council of 26 November 2009, the EU ratified the UN Disability Rights Convention. After ratification, the Convention came into effect for the EU on 23 January 2011.

The European Commission works closely together with the Member States on the implementation of the Convention. The conditions of this cooperation were laid down by the Council in a special code of conduct.

last update: 27 November 2019