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Opening doors for everyone – Accessibility and the contribution of European and International standards


04 Nov 2010


Trade & Society
Innovation & Enterprise
Health & Consumers
EU Priorities 2020

European Standards Organizations CEN and CENELEC take part in the Workshop on ‘Accessibility and the contribution of International Standards’, jointly organized with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in Geneva from 3 to 4 November 2010.


Most of us appreciate that changing lifts to make sure they are wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users was a major achievement. But the standard for lift door widths is just one of myriad changes made to make our world more accessible for people with disabilities, whether congenital, acquired or as a result of age.

It is important to appreciate that we are not talking about small percentages or minorities here: there are an estimated 650 million people with disabilities worldwide – and a considerable number of them still experience accessibility barriers. And the numbers will get larger as population demographics shift as a result of an aging society. The number of people aged over 60 is now increasing twice as fast as it did before 2007 – by about two million every year compared to one million previously, the European Commission‟s EU2020 Strategy highlights.

This is why the European Standardization System and the European Standardization Organizations (CEN - the European Committee for Standardization, CENELEC – the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization and ETSI – the European Telecommuncations Standards Institute) are integrating the principles of accessibility in their standards.

Rather than just seeing this as a challenge, industry also realises that it is an opportunity to create products and services for people with special needs. The next generation of older users will expect to be able to continue to use devices and services in the same sophisticated manner to which they have become accustomed, even though their physical and mental abilities will be declining (e.g. hearing loss, speed of reaction, reduced mobility).

The approach is based on the principle of “Design for All” – meaning that the needs of all potential users of a product or service should be considered from the initial stages of planning and design through to production.

It would be most misleading to give the impression that this is the first time that accessibility is being taken into account. Far from it. The first mandates were published by the European Commission in 1999 for CEN, CENELEC and ETSI, looking at ICT for disabled and elderly people and at the safety and usability of products by people with special needs.

The most obvious aspect of accessibility is the physical one: the right to education, to engage in work can only be exercised if people with disabilities are able to enter, leave and use the place where those activities take place, whether schools or the work environment. This has meant the setting up of structural Eurocodes, a suite of standards for the design of buildings and civil engineering works, as well as the standards for lifts we referred to earlier.

And people with disabilities have the right to a full life, incorporating leisure, sport and travel. This means that they also need access to transport (stations, airports, harbours) and to leisure and cultural facilities (libraries, museums, theatres, cultural centres, concert halls, hotels, restaurants etc). This has led to the definition of standards for sports stadiums and for collective transport.

But accessibility is not limited to physical mobility: it is also important to plan and design for people with sensory disabilities, like the visually impaired and the hearing impaired. So another example of Design for All is medication which is provided with clear instructions in Braille.

The European Standardization Organizations produce standards that are adopted on a voluntary basis but they are so successful because industry values having guidelines which will help to channel their innovation and resources in the right direction.

As in so many cases involving standardisation, it is a win-win situation for all the stakeholders.

Correspondent: Vanessa Macdonald



European Commission World Standards Day conference on „Accessibility for all‟, 12 October 2010 – Conference recordings and presentations:

World Standard Cooperation Workshop „International Workshop‟ Accessibility and the contribution of International Standards, 3-4-5 November 2010:

International Telecommunication Union (ITU- and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) - Workshop on Accessibility to Broadcasting and IPTV, Geneva, 23-24 November 2010:

Media Contacts:


Christine Van Vlierden

Unit Manager Communication

Tel: +32 2 550 09 26




The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is a business catalyst in Europe, removing trade barriers for European stakeholders such as industry, public administration, service providers, consumers and other stakeholders. Its mission is to foster the European economy in global trading, the welfare of European citizens, and the environment. Through its services, CEN provides a platform for the development of European Standards and other specifications.

CEN‟s 31 National Members work together to develop voluntary European Standards (ENs) in various sectors to build a European Internal Market for goods and services and to position Europe in the global economy. By supporting research, and helping disseminate innovation, standards are a powerful tool for economic growth. More than 60.000 technical experts as well as business federations, consumer and other societal interest organizations are involved in the CEN network that reaches over 480 million people.

For further information, please visit:



The European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization is officially responsible for standardization in the electrotechnical field. In an ever more global economy, CENELEC fosters innovation and competitiveness, making technology available not only to major businesses but also to SMEs through the production of voluntary standards. CENELEC creates market access at the European level but also at the international level through its cooperation agreement with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Through the work of its 31 Members together with its experts, the industry federations and consumers, Electrotechnical European Standards are created in order to help shape the European Internal Market, to encourage technological development, to ensure interoperability and to guarantee the safety and health of consumers and provide environmental protection.

Detailed information available at