Access for All - a priority theme for EDF-activities in a unifying Europe
Speech of Mr. Maarten van Ditmarsch of the National Disability Council of the Netherlands (VGPN) at the EDF seminar on Universal Access, 12 and 13 January 2001, Brussels, in co-operation with Mr. Silvio Sagramola of Info-Handicap Luxembourg.
One of the most obvious and difficult problems for many disabled people is the physical inaccessibility of the built environment. Accessibility is one of the decisive issues for the (degree of) participation and integration of disabled people (and often also of their family and friends) in society. Equal opportunities and the growing awareness that the accessibility of public buildings, houses, means of transport etc. is a basic right is becoming more and more common, especially since the publication of the Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations (rule number. 5) in 1994.
In most European countries organisations of and for disabled people, but also organisations of and for the elderly and other NGO’s, are constantly active to promote accessibility for all. Already in 1970 the well-known International Symbol of Access was introduced world-wide.
Also, the European Commission became interested in this issue. In 1985 the Bureau for Action in Favour of Disabled People (the present Unit Integration of the disabled of DGV) published a study and working document about the state of the art of accessibility in the EC-member-states. It described the situation, both in member-states legislation and in practice, similarities and differences. One of the recommendations was that a greater degree of consensus and a more common approach should be achieved within the EC on the universal aspects of access. A prime requirement for making sure that access is fostered in a systematic and purposeful way is to have an agreed policy, formulated on the same lines in all member states.
A lot of consultations since the publication of the above-mentioned study took place which resulted in founding a steering group of representatives and experts of organisations involved in promoting accessibility for all; experts of nearly all EU-countries, but also from Switzerland and Hungary. One of their tasks was to stimulate that the main general access criteria (measures) should be harmonised and standardised within Europe. The result of their efforts was the birth of the well-known European Manual for the Accessibility of the built environment, which evolved into the European Concept for Accessibility. The concept in its present form was adopted in 1996 on a conference in Doorn, the Netherlands, financed by the European Commission in the framework of the Helios II programme.
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