Luxembourg

New Legal & Normative Environment for Accessibility in Europe

2012-11-27:  On Friday last, 23 November 2012, I had the great pleasure of being invited to attend the 2012 IIEA/TEPSA Irish EU Presidency Conference, which was held in Dublin Castle, Ireland.  The Programme was interesting and diverse … but lacked a vital element …

  • Session 1 – Priorities of the Irish EU Presidency ;
  • Session 2 – Economic Governance & Economic Monetary Union ;
  • Session 3 – Innovation & the Digital/Energy Interface ;
  • Session 4 – The European Union in the World.

[ IIEA – Institute of International & European Affairs ] + [ TEPSA – Trans-European Policy Studies Association ]

Colour photograph showing Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore delivering a Keynote Address, from the podium, at the 2012 Dublin IIEA/TEPSA Irish EU Presidency Conference. In the Chair - looking very pensive - is Mr. Dáithí O'Ceallaigh, Director General of the IIEA. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2012-11-23. Click to enlarge.
Colour photograph showing Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore delivering a Keynote Address, from the podium, at the 2012 Dublin IIEA/TEPSA Irish EU Presidency Conference. In the Chair – looking very pensive – is Mr. Dáithí O’Ceallaigh, Director General of the IIEA. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2012-11-23. Click to enlarge.

Although the serious problem of Youth Unemployment in Europe was discussed (from an economic perspective), and the Ageing Society received a passing mention … there was hardly any consideration of EU Citizenship and the many other Soft Social Issues … with, surprise-surprise, no reference at all to the Weak and Vulnerable Groups of People in all of our countries.

Furthermore … I don’t know whether they were invited to the Dublin EU Presidency Conference … and if they were, whether they couldn’t attend … but I did not notice a significant presence of representatives from Irish Disability Organizations at this important event.

Conference Delegates needed to hear that the European Union is for All of its People … not just its Citizens !   That distinction is critical.

Colour photograph showing Delegates at the 2012 IIEA/TEPSA Irish EU Presidency Conference in Dublin - described by one journalist as "a heavyweight audience of policymakers and 'leading thinkers' " - chatting over morning coffee and tea. Notice the lethal-looking metal handrail extensions in the foreground. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2012-11-23. Click to enlarge.
Colour photograph showing Delegates at the 2012 IIEA/TEPSA Irish EU Presidency Conference in Dublin – described by one journalist as “a heavyweight audience of policymakers and ‘leading thinkers’ ” – chatting over morning coffee and tea. Notice the lethal-looking metal handrail extensions in the foreground. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2012-11-23. Click to enlarge.

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Which sets the scene, in an odd way, for the following e-mail message I recently sent through the EUropean Concept for Accessibility Network (EuCAN) … a network of European Accessibility Experts, co-ordinated from Luxembourg by Mr. Silvio Sagramola …

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To EuCAN Network Members:

Silvio,

With some concern, I have been following the discussion about Access Officers.

Allow me to explain.

Once upon a time … at a meeting of the EuCAN Management Team in Luxembourg … there was an intense discussion about ‘Accessibility & Human Rights’.  Now that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been adopted, entered into force, and been ratified by the European Union and many, though not all, of the EU Member States … I hope that this issue has finally been resolved.

Therefore … the immediate, Pan-European Accessibility Agenda can be found in Articles 9, 11 and 19 of the Convention … all within the context of Preamble Paragraph (g).

BUT … is any organization yet working with this Agenda … and, most importantly, implementing it properly ?

AND … let us not forget that Independent Mechanisms to Monitor Implementation are an essential component of the same Agenda (Article 33.2) … at European, national, and sub-national levels, right down to individual public and private organizations !

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Accessibility has been clearly specified in the new International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’ as including … ‘access to buildings, circulation within buildings and their use, egress from buildings in the normal course of events, and evacuation in the event of an emergency‘.

The flawed framework, founded on the term ‘Access’ alone, is now obsolete.  And, therefore, the Access Officer is no more.  Let us all finally agree that the responsible individual, whether he or she, is an Accessibility Officer !

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If the EuCAN Network is to have a useful and constructive future, this is the New Legal & Normative Environment which it must confront, carefully examine … and, in support of which, it should produce design guidance, decision-making computer software tools, etc., etc … for the practical purpose of ‘real’ implementation.

AND … any proposed EuCAN Programme of Action (2013-2015) should also include a review and updating of past publications.

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Some Points To Note:

1.     Although the European Union ratified the U.N. CRPD on 23 December 2010 … European Commissioner Viviane Reding (Justice, Fundamental Rights & Citizenship) stated at a Dublin Meeting, in answer to my direct question, that some Member States are offering stiff resistance to integration of the Convention into the EU System.  Why isn’t the European Disability Forum on top of this ?   But also … the European Union has not yet either signed, or ratified, the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

2.     At the time of writing … Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway (EEA) … have still not ratified the Convention.  Why not ?   Where is the outcry from disability organizations in those countries ??

In Ireland, unfortunately, national decision-makers would rather commit ritual suicide outside government buildings than acknowledge an individual citizen’s human rights.  And, if Ireland ever does ratify the Convention, proper implementation will be very problematic.

Am I exaggerating ?   Not at all … just look at how Ireland has implemented the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified back in September 1992.

3.     In EU Member States that have ratified the U.N. CRPD … the Convention is not always being implemented properly.

Towards the end of the following Blog Post … https://cjwalsh.ie/2011/10/public-procurement-design-for-all-its-crunch-time-folks/ … I have discussed the Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of Spain (September 2011 Session of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

4.     Preamble Paragraph (g) of the U.N. CRPD is even more important, now, for this reason … the United Nations has started to develop the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.  It is essential to fully integrate Ability/Disability Issues into this process.  Making a submission to the U.N. could be an interesting task for EuCAN.

5.     The Fire Safety Texts contained in ISO 21542 are essentially just a bare minimum … and they are mostly in the form of recommendations (‘should’), not requirements (‘shall’).  There is a great need to add extra detail to those texts … and to convert them into requirements.  Making a series of submissions to the International Standards Organization (ISO) should be a task for EuCAN.

Regards.

C.J. Walsh, Sustainable Design International Ltd. – Ireland, Italy & Turkey.

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EUropean Concept for Accessibility (EuCAN) – Extract from 2001 Mission Statement

The fundamental basis of a European philosophy for accessibility is the recognition, acceptance and fostering – at all levels in society – of the rights of all human beings, including people with activity limitations … in an ensured context of high human health, safety, comfort and environmental protection.  Accessibility for All is an essential attribute of a ‘person-centred’, sustainable built environment.

An Effectively Accessible Europe for All

Now that a Comprehensive Legal and Normative Environment for Accessibility has finally been created in Europe … there is a vital need for EuCAN for serve … and a vital role for EuCAN to play.

However … Concerted Action must be directed at Implementation … Effective Implementation … ‘real’ accessibility which works.

Enough talk – Enough tokenism !!

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END

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Barcelona Accessibility Conference – European Issues ?

2009-03-24:  Permit me, first of all, to vigorously reclaim the word ‘accessibility’ back from the Transport Sector.  This important conference in Barcelona was not about transport networks or distances from the nearest transportation node … but about Accessibility of the Human Environment for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), i.e. Accessibility-for-All.

 

A 2-Day Conference organized by EuCAN – the European Concept for Accessibility Network co-ordinated from Luxembourg – it was held in the TRYP APOLO Hotel (Av. Paral-lel, 57-59), on the 19-20th March 2009 … an impressive start-up event for the next EuCAN Project … a publication elaborating the business opportunities being created by Design-for-All for manufacturers and service providers across Europe.

 

I was very pleased to make a presentation on the exciting business potential of Accessible Fire Engineering … a subset of Sustainable Fire Engineering …

 

 

Colour image showing the Title Page (only) of CJ Walsh's Presentation: 'Accessible Fire Engineering', at the recent 2-Day EuCAN Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Held on 19-20th March, 2009.
Colour image showing the Title Page (only) of CJ Walsh’s Presentation: ‘Accessible Fire Engineering’, at the recent 2-Day EuCAN Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Held on 19-20th March, 2009. Click to enlarge.

 

There were, however, some developments at the conference which should be brought to wider public attention for consideration and discussion … here in Ireland, but also in other European countries …

 

 

Colour photograph showing the West/'Passion' Elevation of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.
Colour photograph showing the West/’Passion’ Elevation of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

 

1.  News was announced at the conference that the Proposed International Accessibility-for-All Standard (at present ISO CD 21542.3) has been overwhelmingly supported (mid-March 2009) for progress to the Draft International Standard (DIS) stage in its development.  If everything goes well, we should see this International Standard being published sometime during the first half of 2010. 

The ISO Accessibility-for-All Standard, which will be an essential implementation tool for Articles 9 & 11 of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Buildings, is particularly important for 2 Reasons:

 

         ‘Fire Safety’ Texts are now included in the Main Body of the Standard ;

 

         ‘Fire Evacuation’ is fully integrated into the definition and meaning of ‘Accessibility’.

 

 

Colour photograph showing the Interior of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Current state of progress with the Nave. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.
Colour photograph showing the Interior of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Current state of progress with the Nave. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

 

 

2.  A conversation during the conference morning coffee break, on Friday 20th March, with Bojana Rudić and Miodrag Počuč of the Centar Živeti Uspravno in Serbia, has finally convinced me that all of the various Accessibility Design Philosophies

 

         design-for-all (some attempts have been made to develop 6 Principles for this rather vague philosophy) … used by EU Institutions, and more widely throughout Europe in reaction to universal design ;

         universal design (with its 7 Principles/Commandments) … preached from the USA … but in Japan, for example, a more practical application can be seen.  Strangest of all is the relatively recent establishment in Ireland of the Centre for Universal Design, within the lumbering qwango that is the National Disability Authority (NDA) ;

         inclusive design (with its 5 Principles) … originating from Great Britain ;

         barrier-free design (a philosophy long out of date) … still widely referred to in Germany and other parts of Central Europe ;

         facilitation design (a newer philosophy based on 2 WHO ICF Terms: ‘Facilitator’ and ‘Environmental Factors’ and intended to update barrier-free design) … not yet well known ;

 

… are not only causing enormous confusion about accessibility among the ‘un-initiated’ and architectural students, to take just two examples … but are diverting scarce resources away from the process of ‘real’ accessibility implementation.

 

In some cases, devotion to these philosophies is so consuming that I have experienced, first-hand, a general tendency to discourage any talk about rights … with some prominent members of the International Accessibility Community (who shall remain nameless !) not even bothering to read the actual text of the 2006 UN Disability Rights Convention !

 

 

Colour photograph showing a General View, from within, of the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion - a Master Statement of Modern Architecture - designed by German Architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). De-constructed in early 1930 after the Barcelona International Exposition, it was constructed again in 1986. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.
Colour photograph showing a General View, from within, of the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion – a Master Statement of Modern Architecture – designed by German Architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). De-constructed in early 1930 after the Barcelona International Exposition, it was constructed again in 1986. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

   

3.  Concerning the development of a European Accessibility Business Strategy

 

         2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

 

Yes … Accessibility-for-All is about much more than making life and living easier for people with disabilities.  Children, frail older people (not all older people !), women in the later stages of pregnancy, people who have a health condition, etc., all now need to be included in a more Person-Centred Approach to the design and sustainable transformation of our Human Environment.  This is absolutely essential.

 

But … the 2006 UN Convention must be used as a Product & Service Checklist which covers the basic, i.e. minimum, responsible needs of people with disabilities … a sizeable social group in all of our societies.  Failure to complete this simple task is a fundamental strategic error !

 

The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also their sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

         Integration of Accessibility-for-All Performance

 

Building Accessibility, to take a specific example, is now more complex … and includes …

 

         Approach to the building from the site boundary ;

         Entry through principal entrance(s) ;

         Health, Safety, Convenience & Comfort In Use, including thermal and acoustic comfort, good indoor air quality, protection from fire, etc ;

         Egress under normal conditions ;

         Evacuation in the Event of a Fire, or other emergency ;

         Removal from the vicinity of the building back to the site boundary ;

 

and …

 

         Each stage of a Work Process, at every level, in places of work ;

         Use of Electronic, Information & Communication Technologies (EICT’s) – at minimum, those permanently fixed in/to the building ;

 

and …

 

         Management, Services & Attitudes of People in the organization using the building ;

         Recruitment, Employment, Promotion & Training Practices within the same organization.

 

 

Performance in all of these different, and up until now separate, components must be brought together and properly integrated.

 

 

         Accessibility-related Products

 

In Ireland, we suffer from an over-supply of British manufactured accessibility-related products which are badly-designed and inadequately tested … or not tested at all.  Inability to show compliance with Part D of the Irish Building Regulations is a big issue … that is, if those manufacturers even realize that we have our own separate building legislation over here.

 

By the way, failure to be able to show compliance with Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations for England & Wales is an issue across the water as well !

 

The situation isn’t much better in the rest of Europe.  Yes … the quality of design is much, much better, but there is still enormous confusion about CE Marking.

 

Accessibility-related Products are still, and always have been, industrial products which are being placed on the Single European Market.  Normal rules apply !

 

 

         Accessibility-related Services

 

Hopefully, we will soon see the demise of the Access Consultant … a plentiful species, particularly in Great Britain … an individual who only deals with ‘approach to’, ‘entry’ and ‘use’ of a building or facility … and nothing about ‘fire evacuation’.  Their days are slowly numbered !

 

The rest of us, however, need to familiarize ourselves with necessary new services …

 

         Accessibility Impact Assessment ;

         Accessibility Performance Indicators ;

         Accessibility Benchmarking, Target Setting and Progress Evaluation ;

         Independent Accessibility Verification ;

         Etc.

 

Accessibility-related Services must be dragged out of prehistoric caves … screaming, if necessary.  Services must become much more professional !

 

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