Accessible Tourism in the Legislation Framework
Everything that happens at an international level and at a European level on the subject of the rights of individuals in general and of accessibility in particular, has in one way or another direct effects in the short or medium term at a national and local level in most Member States of the European Union. The general attention to disability issues began in the late 80’s thanks mostly to the initiatives undertaken by the United Nations that already in 1975 adopted a resolution containing a declaration on the rights of the persons with disabilities.
1981 – The UN “Year of Disabled Persons”
The critical moment though was in 1981, defined as the “Year of Disabled Persons” by the General Assembly of the UN. From this point began the “Decade of the persons with Disabilities” (1983-1992).
In 20 December 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Resolution that contains the “Standard Rules On the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities” Even if the Standard Rules do not have any legally binding power, they are a very strong recommendation to Governments to promote and publish policies aimed at ensuring equal rights to people with disabilities.
This document, born by the experience gained throughout the “Decade of the persons with Disabilities”, covers all the aspects of the life of people with disabilities and it contains a set of rules, grouped in four themes:
- The basic conditions for the full participation
- The areas of intervention
- The actual measures
- The monitoring mechanism
As an example, four of these rules are directly related to the tourism sector:
• Rule 1. Awareness-raising. Countries will increase their awareness and sensitization of society (e.g. Potential tourists, tourism entrepreneurs, etc..) on the rights and obligations, needs and the contribution that people with disabilities can make to society in general through campaigns, advertisements in the media, distribution of information, public training programmes, and so on.
• Rule 5. Accessibility. Countries will introduce action programmes to ensure accessible physical environments, like the development of mandatory standards and guidelines in all spheres of society and that these measures reach people responsible for implementing them (e.g. Buildings or means of both public and private transport for public use) and to take measures to provide access to information and communication in all possible formats for people with disabilities.
• Rule 10. Culture. Countries will ensure that persons are integrated and participate in the different cultural activities that take place in each country on an equal basis.
• Rule 11. Recreation and Sports. Countries will take steps to make beaches, hotels, sports, gyms, etc. accessible to people with disabilities. All travel and leisure activities organizers should organize services thinking of the needs of people with disabilities, for which it is necessary to train people.
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
In August 2006, the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities took place in New York. An International Treaty was approved there (mandatory, binding and with coercive potentiality), by which the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities are guaranteed, being the first treaty on Human Rights, which was approved in the XXI century. It will undoubtedly lead to an improvement from the practical point of view of the treatment of people with disabilities.
The objective of the Convention was to develop in detail the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to establish a code of application for those rights to be effective. The treaty includes among others, the 1993 Uniform Standards. All countries that have ratified the treaty, European Union countries among others, are bound to modify or abolish the laws to conform to the requirements of this treaty on the subject of Equal Opportunities, to make population aware from the earliest ages and to provide resources to the maximum available, and if necessary in the framework of international cooperation.
The Convention is inspired by a new approach regarding disability, that attributes the condition of the disabled to the existence of barriers of different nature that inhibit his/her participation in the society in an equal way to all others and its main scope should be the overcoming of such barriers. The accessibility of everything for everyone, the adoption of a reasonable accommodation, the reinforcement of the role of the representative organizations and the mainstreaming of accessibility in overall processes of development are therefore the priorities on which the Convention is based. Such priorities are intended to achieve the essential fundamentals like dignity, equality and the non-discrimination, the individual autonomy, the participation and the inclusion to the society, the acceptance of the disability as a part of the human diversity.
Although the majority of the rights recognized in the Convention are enshrined also in other international agreements regarding the human rights applicable to the disabled, the Convention presents a significant added value as it integrates the existing legislative framework for the effective implementation of the principle of equality.
From 26 November 2009 the Convention became an EU law. In fact, the European Union Council has ratified the document, an action that obliged the State members to take into consideration the rights set on the UN Paper not only from the legislative point of view but also in establishing actions to realise its objectives.
In particular, the Article 30 – Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport – is directly linked to the possibilities of every citizen to access tourist proposals in general.
The wording of Sub 1 states:
1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to take part on an equal basis with others in cultural life, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities:
(a) Enjoy access to cultural materials in accessible formats;
(b) Enjoy access to television programmes, films, theatre and other cultural activities, in accessible formats;
(c) Enjoy access to places for cultural performances or services, such
as theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services, and, as far as possible, enjoy access to monuments and sites of national cultural importance.
The states are consequently, obliged to put into action all the appropriate measures to make sure that all persons with disabilities, on an equal basis, have access to the tourism, cultural and leisure time proposals.
Sustainable development and accessible tourism
At the 2013, historic UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, which included several Heads of State, the links between disability and development were discussed and the meeting called for enhanced action to mainstream disability in the global development agenda. In the outcome document of the meeting, accessibility was identified as a key area for action.
Furthermore, in his message for the 2013 World Habitat Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to make towns and cities accessible to all.
In the recent “2030 Agenda for Global Action” containing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2015), Goal 11 focuses on principles to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. This goal captures tourism and recreation through its call for the provisions of universal design for accessible and sustainable transport systems, inclusive urbanization, and access to green and public spaces.
As already mentioned, in its 2011 report, The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicted tourism would increase and experience sustained development, reaching 1.8 billion international tourists by 2030. Accessible cities and tourism provisions therefore ensure the full social and economic inclusion of all persons with direct benefits of promoting more sustainable travel habits among users.
UNWTO also highlights the significant ties between the sustainable development goals and tourism, as it is included as a target in three out of the 17 SDGs.
Goal 8; ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’:
by 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products;
Goal 12, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’:
develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.
Goal 14, ‘Life below water’:
developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through tourism.
European Charter of Fundamental Rights and European Agreement for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
From European Union Institutions, the right of everyone to equality before the law is recognized, as well as the protection against discrimination which is included both in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the European Agreement for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The EU recognizes the right to an independent way of life, to an employment and to security.
It also recognizes that access to benefits and opportunities arising from leisure, travel and tourism should not be denied to citizens with disabilities, always in comfort and security conditions, and which are currently available to other European citizens.
Article 13 – Constituent Treaty of the European Union
Article 13 of the European Union Constituent Treaty authorizes the Council to “take appropriate actions to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual condition.”
The year 2003, European Year of People with Disabilities
The council of the European Union declared the year 2003 as the European Year of People with Disabilities. During this year awareness campaigns and sensitisation of the discrimination against people with disabilities were carried out in all Member States and in all areas and the exchange of good practices in this sector were promoted. This year had very positive consequences in the whole tourist industry but not enough. Any changes need time and in the field of tourism there were a lot of changes but there are still many to be done.
The year 2007, European Year of Equal Opportunities for All
The European Union council declared the year 2007 as the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All, with the aim of raising awareness to reject discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, and to provide more information to citizens regarding their legal rights and obligations. In line with the objectives of this year, we can highlight as an example, the publication of the rights of passengers in the Air and Railway Transport as well as other directives published for other means of transportation. This can help suppliers in the European tourism sector to know what steps have to be taken to ensure that their products and services can be used and consumed by all its customers on an equal basis.
Adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol were adopted on 13 December 2006. The convention is the first international legally binding instrument which sets minimum standards for rights for people with disabilities and the first human rights convention to which the EU became a party.
On 26 November 2009, the Council of Europe adopted its decision concerning the conclusion of the convention, which entered into force on 22 January 2011 for the European Union.
The core elements of the UN Convention are reflected in the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020.
European Disability Strategy 2010-2020
On 15 November 2010, the European Commission adopted the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which aims at breaking down the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis. The strategy is structured in eight areas for joint action between the EU and the Member States. i.e., accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health, and external action.
The European Commission’s working document presents the specific objectives identified in the strategy and the actions envisaged to achieve them. Further information is available on the European Commission website. http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1137&langId=en
The European Accessibility ACT (2015-2018)
The European Union is discussing since 2015 a proposal for a law that can make several products and services accessible in Europe: the European Accessibility Act. Unfortunately, the discussions at the European Parliament show a clear risk that the importance of the Act will be dramatically watered down.
On 2 December 2015, the European Commission published a proposal for a European Accessibility Act. Once this proposal will be adopted, it should lead to common accessibility requirements covering products and services across the EU. Currently, there is no specific EU legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities and the proposed Accessibility Act has therefore a lot of potential.
The European Accessibility Act is a proposal for a law that would make many products and services in the European Union (EU) more accessible for persons with disabilities. Many EU organizations are campaigning for the proposal to be adopted so that the Accessibility Act will become a binding law. The proposed Accessibility Act takes the form of a Directive, which is legally binding, meaning that the EU Member States have an obligation to apply what the Act mentions.
Sadly, the last provisional agreement on the European Accessibility Act reached on the 8th of November 2018 by the EU Institutions only covers digital accessibility and leaves out the real world environment where persons with disabilities live.
The European Accessibility Act adds new EU-wide minimum requirements on accessibility on a limited range of products and such as computers, smartphones, TVs, ATMs, payment terminals, e-books, e-readers, websites and mobile applications of private companies and ticket machines. The 112-emergency number and telephony services will also have to be accessible to all Europeans.
However, the Act lacks essential aspects. It excludes transport, microenterprises that provide services, household appliances. It excludes any obligation on accessible buildings and infrastructure. It excludes the real environment where people spend most of their time.
Adopting an Accessibility Act giving obligations and standards also to the built environment, transport and small enterprises would be a big step for the EU to promote the inclusion of its 80 million persons with disabilities, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that the EU and all Member States have ratified.
The hope at the end of 2018 is that a revision of the Act will be possible before its adoption. Otherwise, the onus will be on the Member States, individually, to implement the many and wide-reaching changes in legislation that may still be needed to bring about a European Union which truly defends the rights of all its citizens.