EUROPEAN BLIND UNION RESPONSE TO THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION GREEN
PAPER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION IN AN ENLARGED EUROPEAN
1 About the European Blind Union
1.1 The European Blind Union (EBU) is a non-governmental and non-profit-making
organisation representing blind and partially sighted people from all over Europe.
EBU's purpose is:
- to promote the principles of non-discrimination and equalisation of opportunities for
all disadvantaged groups, in particular blind and partially sighted people
- to work towards the advancement of the well-being of blind and partially sighted people
with the goal of equality and full participation in society
- to provide a European Forum for the exchange of knowledge and experience in the
field of blindness and partial sight
- to promote the prevention of blindness and partial sight in Europe.
1.2 EBU currently has 44 member countries. The EBU network has a wealth of
expertise in all areas relating to the consequences of sight loss. Our members provide
services, training and advice as well as representing the rights of blind and partially
sighted people. We undertake research, promote public awareness and empower blind
and partially sighted people to take up their rights and lead active lives.
1.3 EBU is funded by member subscriptions, sponsorship and grants from the
European Commission for coordination and project activity. The decisions taken by the
European Union have a significant impact on the daily lives of blind and partially sighted
people. EBU works to make sure that the interests of blind and partially sighted people are
taken into account in all EU decisions which affect them. To achieve this, we actively seek
to influence EU policies. We have good links with Members of the European Parliament,
European Commission officials and European Expert Groups and the European Disability
Forum, as well as with national government officials participating in the EU decision
1.4 While recognising the value of an integrated approach to tackling the discrimination
faced by people with disabilities and even other disadvantaged groups, it is important also
to be aware of the distinctive needs of particular groups. We were glad to see that the
European Disablility Forum (EDF) was very clear about this in its response to the Green
Paper. It is the role of EBU, therefore, to be particularly concerned with the disability
discrimination faced by blind and partially sighted people and EBU is uniquely qualified to
identify and call attention to the particular needs of blind and partially sighted people. That
is why we welcome this Green Paper and the opportunity to respond to it.
2 About Blind and Partially Sighted People and the Discrimination They Experience
2.1 People with sight problems come from all kinds of backgrounds and lead all sorts of
lives. Each person is affected in a way that is individual to them - it is not the same
experience for everyone. Age-related eye conditions are the most common cause of sight
loss in Europe.
2.2 There are in excess of 10 million people entitled to be registered as blind or partially
sighted and possibly as many as 30 million people with sight difficulties of some sort in the
44 member countries of the European Blind Union. This figure takes into account the
varying definitions of visual impairment in different countries.
2.3 Discrimination and Rights. People with sight loss face discrimination and
infringement of their rights on a daily basis, be it at work, in trying to find work, or in going
to a cafe, supermarket or hospital.
Protection in law is a key factor. EBU was a major player in the campaign to incorporate
the reference to discrimination on the ground of disability into Article 13 of the European
Treaty in 1997, which gave the European Union, for the first time, a legal base to combat
discrimination. The EU’s Anti-discrimination Action Programme and the 2000/78 EU
Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation are direct results of Article
2.4 EBU supports the European Disability Forum's proposal for a disability specific
directive on non-discrimination, launched in March 2003 as part of the European Year of
People with Disabilities. It would cover all fields of EU competence, and therefore help to
break down discriminatory barriers in policy areas such as education, social protection,
public health, consumer affairs and telecommunications, as well as improve accessibility of
manufactured goods. A horizontal disability directive would also allow people with
disabilities to benefit from equal treatment and it would ensure a level playing field across
Europe, enabling them to use their right to free travel across Europe. Finally, such a
Directive would enable issues to be resolved that can only be dealt with at EU level
because they would otherwise interfere with the operation of the single market, such as
obligations laid on manufacturers.
2.5 The proposed UN Convention to protect the rights of persons with disabilities will
provide additional impetus for the implementation of the UN Standard Rules on the
Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and will complement EU non-
discrimination legislation. A comprehensive EU directive combating discrimination against
people with disabilities would be a very effective means to encourage EU Member States
to develop systems for complying with the UN Convention at European, National and
2.6 EBU believes in the value of a broad definition of non-discrimination in the new
European Constitutional Treaty and advocates that decisions about non-discrimination
should be made by Qualified Majority Voting to facilitate progress.
Several EU member states now have anti-discrimination legislation in place, and within our
network we exchange information and share experience of these various approaches.
There is no doubt that comprehensive and enforceable anti-discrimination legislation has
the power to change the physical, social and communications environment and prevent
the establishment of new barriers.
2.7 EBU supports complementary positive action measures to promote equality. For
example, we have campaigned to include accessibility, design for all criteria and
incentives to employ people with disabilities within the European framework for
public procurement procedures. Companies with a track record in social
responsibility, good employment practice and an inclusive design approach would
score additional points for corporate social responsibility when tendering for public
2.8 EBU and its members also work with EU and national institutions on issues relating
to the European Employment and Social Exclusion Strategies and the National
Action Plans which take them forward from policy to practice.
3 EBU's Response to the Green Paper
3.1 General Issues
This section of EBU's response is divided into two parts:
- Application of the non-discrimination principle in legislation and in practice
- Addressing disability as a cross-cutting issue.
3.1.2 EBU considers that:
- Other groups at risk of discrimination will also have to be taken into account, since
blind, partially sighted and other people with disabilities are also black, female, children,
older people etc. Each person's situation should be considered as a whole.
- Special attention must be given to those people with very severe and multiple
disabilities to ensure their fundamental rights and needs are recognised and met.
3.1.3 Application of the Non-discrimination Principle in Legislation and in Practice
EBU understands that it will be necessary to implement some legal changes and to
support institutions whose prime role is to address discrimination, because:
- Legislative action on measures to combat discrimination requires unanimous
approval by the Council of Ministers despite the proposal of the European
Commission to achieve the adoption of such measures by a qualified majority vote.
This situation has been exacerbated by the recent entry of the ten new Member
States, as the possibility of obtaining unanimity is now even more remote.
- It will also be essential to continue to introduce legislation to protect groups at risk of
discrimination. EBU understands that it is necessary to implement this legislation,
and ensure correct and complete transposition of national laws in all Member States
in a reasonable period of time. In order to achieve effective transposition, it will be
essential to establish mechanisms for full public consultation and appeal.
3.2 Addressing Disability as a Cross-Cutting Issue
3.2.1 EBU considers that it is vital to ensure that information about anti-discrimination
legislation is disseminated effectively and promptly to all citizens, paying particular
attention to the special access requirements of people with sensory impairments.
3.2.2 EBU recommends that the EU should foster the establishment and development of
agencies specifically concerned with the promotion of non-discrimination policies and
strategies and to offer assistance to all those who have been victims of discrimination.
3.2.3 EBU advocates the establishment of a European Observatory on Non-discrimination
under an accountable official and akin, at European level, to equality bodies established at
national level. This agency would be responsible for:
- Providing information on the discrimination faced by speciific groups of disabled
- Enforcing and monitoring compliance with European anti-discrimination legislation
- Monitoring the impact of EU non-discrimination legislation and other initiatives to
defen the rights of persons and groups at risk of exclusion and
- Providing a flow of data that would inform future EU activities aimed at eliminating
The Observatory's monitoring and data collecting activities would be especially useful in
tracking discrimination against disabled people in employment.
3.2.4 Full use of Community Funding and Reaction to the Challenge of Enlargement
- EBU Supports EU Initiatives under the Structural Funds, particularly the European
Social Fund, that aim to achieve social inclusion, thereby preventing discrimination
against disadvantaged groups. It is crucial that the impact of these funds on
disadvantaged groups such as people with disabilities be monitored. Furthermore,
EBU considers that, as a consequence of the recent enlargement of the European
Union, it will be essential for disability issues to be accorded high priority when
resources for these initiatives are allocated. This will help to ensure that the
discrimination currently experienced by the 50 million people with disabilities in
Europe is addressed.
3.2.5 Strengthening Co-operation with Interested Parties
- EBU considers that it will be very useful to establish mechanisms aimed at
increasing social awareness. This will promote a better understanding of the impact
of unacceptable discriminatory social conduct.
- To achieve progress in this area, it will be necessary to establish a dialogue with a
wide range of organisations that interact with the citizens of the EU.
3.2.6 EBU also considers that if discrimination against blind, partially sighted and other
people with disabilities is to be combated:
- International co-operation must be strengthened
- Complementarity with other areas of community policy must be achieved and
- Studies must be undertaken to establish the nature and extent of discrimination,
action taken to address this and monitoring subsequently introduced to ensure its
- Publication of information and awareness raising material in all branches of the
media must continue in order to promote a positive image of people with disabilities.
The specialist disability media could be encouraged to form a network to support
- A comprehensive glossary of non-discriminatory terms that should be adopted when
disability issues are being discussed in the public domain should be prepared
- The knowledge and understanding of diversity and equality through appropriate
training at all levels and in every part of the European Union need to be increased.
4 Specific issues
4.1 EBU urges the European Institutions to develop strategies, policies and legislation
that take full account of the particular needs and circumstances of different groups
of people that arise from the specific impact of their disabilities. For example, blind
and partially sighted people seeking employment experience more discrimination
and prejudice than people with other disabilities. This is clearly illustrated in the
recently published Campaign report No 22 of the Royal National Institute of the
Blind in the UK - 'Beyond the Stereotypes'.
4.2 EBU, whilst noting the action taken to reduce discrimination against older EU
citizens in relation to the provision of goods and services, is very concerned that the
EU, through its Treaties, Directives and other instruments has done little to address
the needs and rights of older EU citizens, including those who are blind or partially
sighted. This is despite the fact that the Amsterdam Treaty specifically calls upon
EU member countries to address discrimination on the grounds of age. The
proportion of older people in all European countries is predicted to continue to
increase very substantially during the next twenty years. Of course, this means that
the numbers of people with disabilities in our population, particularly blind and
partially sighted people, will increase significantly during the same period.
4.2.1 EBU understands the economic imperative that impels the EU to promote
employment based initiatives. However, it is equally important to address the needs
of the older population and to help older people, especially those who are blind or
partially sighted, to maintain independent lives. Their well-being and ability to live
inclusive lives in their communities will have a direct impact on the resources that
national and local governments will have to allocate in future years to support our
4.2.2 There is anecdotal evidence that central and local government policies and
strategies differentiate between provision for people above and below 65 years of
age. This is done regardless of any assessment of individual need and adversely
affects blind and partially sighted people over 65. There is also anecdotal evidence
that some hospital services are less likely to provide treatments for older patients,
including those who are blind or partially sighted. Some governments' statutory
benefits for blind and partially sighted people are only available to citizens below 65
years of age. These practices are discriminatory; EU should be giving a lead to EU
member states to address these and other instances of institutional discrimination
against older blind and partially sighted people.
4.2.3 So, it is becoming increasingly important for EU to
- identify the extent to which the needs of older blind and partially sighted people are
being understood and met in EU countries
- Determine whether the policies and practices of the health and social services as
well as the commercial sector currently discriminate against older blind and partially
sighted citizens and the medium to long term impact this has on the economic, health an
social well-being of older citizens, especially those who are disabled by visual loss.
4.3 EBU welcomes the encouragement being given by EU through the social inclusion
action plans to national governments and their agencies to consult with national non-
governmental organisations representing the interests of people with disabilities. This
consultation needs to take place on all strategic and legislative matters, as the entire
spectrum of activities in these areas has a direct or indirect impact on the lives of people
4.4 EBU notes the action being taken by the EU to combat violence against women and
children. People with disabilities, especially blind and partially sighted people, are
subject to heightened levels of violence. This has recently been recognised in the
UK, where new legislation imposes additional penalties on the perpetrators of
violence against people with disabilities. EU should encourage other EU member
states to emulate this example.
4.5 EBU appreciates that the EU has facilitated the free movement of citizens between
member countries as well as the EU wide recognition of degrees and other
qualifications. Yet in some EU countries, it is not possible for a blind or partially
sighted person to carry out any professional activity of his/her choice, e.g. to obtain
a post as a teacher in a public school or as a judge and work in a court of law. Nor
do some EU member states permit the appointment of blind and partially sighted
people as jurors. This inequity is unacceptable and constitutes discrimination. The
EU should encourage member states to appoint blind and partially sighted people to
posts within the public administration and the judiciary.
4.6 Provision by all postal service providers of free postal services under the 'Articles for
the Blind' scheme following the introduction of liberalised postal services has to be
satisfactorily resolved. Discussions that have so far taken place between EBU and
EU have been inconclusive. Failure to find an outcome to these discussions that will
retain the present provision of free postal services for 'Articles for the Blind' would
very adversely impact on blind and partially sighted people throughout Europe and
would constitute institutional discrimination.
4.7 It is essential for EU to set an example of exemplary practice for access to
information in the public domain. For instance, EU should ensure that all of its
published documents, whether in hard copy or electronic format, are fully accessible
to blind and partially sighted people at the same time as the information is available
in formats for other citizens. The practice of just using PDF formats on the EU's
Website is not acceptable, as PDF is at best difficult and at worst impossible for
blind and partially sighted people to read.
4.7.1 Another example of access to information that EU needs to address is the provision
of communicators for deafblind people at EU events and meetings. Failure to
provide this service discriminates against a group of very severely disabled people
with major communication difficulties.
4.7.2 In addition, the right of blind and partially sighted people to access books in
alternative formats such as Braille and audio without having to pay more than their
sighted colleagues, should be recognised in EU initiatives such as the upcoming EU
VAT legislation. Though progress has been made with the EU Copyright Directive, it
is still of great concern to EBU that the right of disabled people for fair use and for
private, non-commercial copying of protected works is not unconditionally
recognised as it should be. Much still depends on the transposition into national law
of exceptions in favour of copies made for the benefit of blind and partially sighted
people and on complex negotiations over digital rights management regimes.
4.8 EBU recognises the important work that EU has already achieved in improving
accessibility to public transport. Yet there remains much to be done before blind and
partially sighted people no longer experience discrimination every time they use
public transport. There are four main issues - the design of vehicles, the provision of
information, free travel for personal assistants and the training of staff. EU is in a
very strong position to introduce new directives that will set standards of service that
would, over time, have a major beneficial impact on the nature and quality of public
transport services for blind, partially sighted and other groups of people with
disabilities in all EU countries.
4.9 The EBU has taken an active part in the dialogue initiated some five years ago by
the EU to discuss air passengers' rights with ECAC and the air industry at large.
This is an area where blind and partially sighted people, and other persons with
reduced mobility (PRMs), much too often face discrimination (transfer of the cost of
assistance directly to the PRM, lack of accessible information, unjustified
restrictions in seat allocation and carriage of guide dogs in the cabin). EBU
therefore warmly welcomes the repeated commitment by the European Commission
to introduce an EU regulation on the rights of air passengers with reduced mobility.
However the regulation was due in early 2004 and EBU is very much concerned
that it has not been released to date. We therefore hope that the Commission will
press ahead with its plans and release the regulation as soon as possible so that
people with disabilities can enjoy equal rights to free movement and are guaranteed
full access to air travel.
4.10 EBU has noted the recent increasing interest being taken by EU regarding access
to the built environment. This is welcomed, as there is a proliferation of design
practices developing in different EU countries relating to the built environment.
Tactile surfaces and audible signals at controlled pedestrian crossings are but two
examples. Blind and partially sighted people rely on such features to facilitate
independent mobility. However, the variation of practice in different countries is
causing increasing confusion amongst blind and partially sighted international
travellers. It is becoming increasingly important to establish EU wide design
standards in the design of the built environment for people with disabilities. The EU
is in a key position to take the lead. Perhaps the first step should be to identify
priority issues for consideration and then fund rigorous and objective research to
identify examples of good practice in environmental design that could form the basis
for the establishment of standards in this field.
4.11 EBU is concerned that most manufactured goods are not designed to take account
of the needs of people with disabilities and especially blind and partially sighted
people. Additionally, very few manufacturers provide instructions about their
products and their use that is accessible to people who cannot read normal print.
Some EU countries place a legal responsibility on retailers to ensure that products
are suitable for use by people with disabilities and require them to provide
accessible product information. As a result, many products have to be adapted for
blind, partially sighted and people with other disabilities at the point of sale. This is
often less than satisfactory, as adaptations often do not enable people with
disabilities to use the full range of products' facilities. Additionally, it often proves
difficult for retailers to provide product information in an accessible format. The
solution to this problem is to produce manufactured goods that conform to 'Design
for All' criteria. EBU therefore calls on the EU to address this discrimination by
requiring all manufactured goods that are sold in EU countries to conform to 'Design
for All' criteria and for all manufacturers to be required to produce and distribute
product information in a range of formats as has recently been agreed in relation to
the labelling of medicines.
4.12 EBU takes a particular interest in EU initiatives in the field of employment despite its
disappointment at the pace of transposition and implementation of the relevant
directive. All the same, the EU Directive on Employment is slowly beginning to have
a positive impact on employment for disadvantaged people in factories, shops and
offices. However, there are many people with disabilities, including blind and
partially sighted men and women who, for different reasons, perhaps because of
multiple disabilities, are not able to work under ordinary conditions. These people
have the right to be able to make a contribution to their own financial needs by
being given the opportunity to work under a range of supported employment
conditions. The EU has not yet recognised this basic human need and taken steps
to encourage EU member states to develop policies and practice in this area.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that the provision of supported employment in many
EU countries is actually shrinking. As a result, more severely disabled people are
becoming totally reliant on state benefits. EBU urges the EU to monitor levels of
supported employment and also to identify levels of need for this important
EBU also believes it could be very helpful to establish a quota which sets a
minimum number of people with disabilities that should be employed in different
fields, and to implement the social profitability concept in firms, and ultimately the
concept of the social economy.
4.13 EBU notes the substantial EU programmes in the fields of culture, leisure, sport and
library services. We appreciate the support given by EU to EBU's campaign to make
television programmes and receiving equipment accessible to blind and partially
sighted people. This initiative is an example of what can and should be done to
facilitate access by blind and partially sighted people to culture, leisure and sport. At
present, blind and partially sighted people and deaf and hard of hearing people are
largely unable to access mainstream facilities in these areas. This is clearly
discriminatory, as the means exist to provide access. EBU calls on the EU to take
full account of access issues when developing and monitoring programmes in these
areas. Access for all people with disabilities should be a strand of all EU funded and
promoted programmes in culture, leisure, sport and library services.
4.14 EBU understands that EU only has limited influence on insurance services. We note
for example that the EU has recently intervened to ensure that male and female
drivers are treated equitably when purchasing vehicle insurance. There are many
areas in insurance where blind and partially sighted people are required by some
companies to pay a higher premium for some cover. This is discriminatory and
requires action. Perhaps the EU could consider whether there is scope for EU
institutions to investigate the extent to which people with disabilities are
discriminated against by the insurance companies and what action can be taken to
address this problem.
4.15 EBU is concerned at the generally low participation of blind and partially sighted
citizens at elections, be they European, National, Regional or local. This is mainly
due to voting facilities and equipment not being fully accessible. In particular voting
information is seldom made available in accessible formats, which deprives people
with a reading disability of their right to confidential voting. Electronic voting, which
many saw as a promising means to secure improved access to voting, has not lived
up to expectations. As evidenced during the last European Parliamentary elections,
new electronic voting machines, introduced in a number of Member States, proved
to be totally inaccessible and made the situation even worse. EBU believes that the
European Commission should take the lead in addressing this form of discrimination
if blind and partially sighted people are ever to become full and responsible citizens
of Europe. One possible way forward could be for the Commission to give
European standardisation bodies a mandate to work on this issue, in consultation
with disability organisations.
EBU welcomes the Commission Green Paper on equality and non-discrimination in an
enlarged European Union and feels moved to respond to it in a very clear and
EBU would like to stress the need for both legislative initiatives and positive action in order
to bring about real change in the lives of persons with disabilities in Europe. We would like
the outcome of this consultation exercise to result in a revival of interest and in a real
commitment on the part of all decision makers about the need for further anti-
discrimination legislation, in particular for persons with disabilities in respect of their social
inclusion and access to goods and services.
Furthermore, EBU has the feeling that the fight against discrimination is no longer among
the political priorities of the EU, as it has disappeared from the official documents of the
European Institutions, which believe that there is no need for additional EU legislation to
fight against discrimination. EBU, on the contrary, like the whole disability movement,
believes that combating discrimination must be one of the top priorities of the European
Union. This Green Paper should be considered as an opportunity to reflect and so
stimulate the process of an anti-discrimination strategy.
EBU is also concerned about the fact that the resources allocated to most funding of
European NGOs that represent specific groups of persons with disabilities, like EBU, have
been dramatically reduced in recent years. We would like to draw the attention of the
European Commission to the fact that impairment specific organisations play a major role
in promoting and protecting the human rights of the groups they represent through their
work to combat any form of discrimination. There seems to be little consideration of their
need to advocate for the interests and the concerns of their members without any
interference by public authorities in their internal management. This is the way to
strengthen the new concept of participatory democracy as established in the new
This document sets out the views and proposals of blind and partially sighted persons in
Europe regarding equality and non-discrimination, but also their needs and expectations
relating to the very practical consequences deriving from their condition of heavily
discriminated social minority group. For more general and overall issues we would like to
refer to the European Disability Forum response to the Green Paper, the perspectives and
content of which we fully and wholeheartedly share.