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Brussels, 15 November 2010

Creating a barrier-free Europe: European Commission seeks better access for 80 million people with disabilities

Most people take it for granted that they can hop on a bus to go shopping, surf the Internet or enjoy a television series. But for the 80 million Europeans with a disability, there may be major obstacles that put these activities out of reach. The European Commission today adopted a new strategy to break down these barriers. The plan outlines how the EU and national governments can empower people with disabilities so they can enjoy their rights. Specific measures over the next decade range from the mutual recognition of national disability cards, the promotion of standardisation to a more targeted use of public procurement and state aid rules. These measures will have substantial societal benefits, but should also produce a knock-on effect on Europe's economy. They could for example enhance the EU market for assisted devices and services, which already today has an estimated annual value of over 30 billion. The Commission will also consider whether to propose a “European Accessibility Act” by 2012 to further develop the Single Market for accessible products and services.

"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 Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. “A very effective option for achieving this is to develop standards for accessible goods and services at European level and to use public procurement to promote accessible public buildings. Similar measures have been both a societal and an economic success in the United States. 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. My goal is a truly barrier-free Europe for persons with disabilities by 2020."

One in six people in the European Union – around 80 million – have a disability that ranges from mild to severe. Over one third of people aged over 75 have disabilities that restrict them to some extent. These numbers are set to rise as the EU population grows progressively older. Most of these people are all too often prevented from fully participating in society and the economy because of physical or other barriers, as well as discrimination.

Breaking down barriers is not only a societal task, but it can also create new market opportunities. A study by the UK’s Royal National Institute of the Blind showed that a £35 000 investment by a supermarket chain in making their website accessible 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.

Against this background, the strategy presented today by the Commission marks a renewal of the EU's commitment to improve the situation of Europeans with disabilities. It complements and supports action by the Member States which have the main responsibility in disability policies.

The EU strategy focuses on empowering people with disabilities to enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others and on removing obstacles in everyday life. The main actions are:

  • Accessibility initiative: considering how to use standardisation, public procurement or state aid rules to make all goods and services accessible to people with disabilities while fostering an EU market for assistive devices (“European Accessibility Act”). This market is expected to grow considerably in the coming years, following the experience in the United States;

  • Participation: making sure that persons with disabilities and their families exercise their EU citizenship rights on an equal footing through the mutual recognition of disability cards and related entitlements; facilitating the use of sign language and Braille when exercising EU citizens' electoral rights or dealing with EU institutions; promoting an accessible format of websites and copyrighted works, such as books;

  • Funding: ensuring that EU programmes and funds in policy areas relevant to people with disabilities are used to promote sound working conditions for professional and informal care providers and develop personal-assistance schemes;

  • More cooperation between Member States (through the High Level Group on Disability) and civil society: providing a forum for the exchange of data and policy coordination, in particular on the portability of rights, such as the right to personal assistance;

  • Awareness-raising: raising public awareness of disability and accessibility, such as through the European award for accessible cities;

  • Data collection and monitoring: improving knowledge about the situation of people with disabilities in Europe and the barriers they face in their everyday lives while also identifying and promoting successful support structures put in place by Member States at national level

The strategy includes a list of concrete actions and a timetable. The Commission will regularly report on the plan’s achievements and progress complying with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which it has signed.


The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights says that the “Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.” In addition, the EU and all its 27 Member States, have already committed to creating a barrier-free Europe by signing the UNCRPD.

Today's EU Disability Strategy is specifying EU action under the Europe 2020 strategy (IP/10/225) as well as of actions proposed in the EU Citizenship Report 2010 (IP/10/1390).

Further information

The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 "A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe" and supporting documents are available here:

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:


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