RNIB Scotland launches manifesto for the European Union elections
Scotland's six elected Members of the European Parliament can still help to transform services for people with disabilities as part of a legacy to the EU.
Launching its manifesto today, sight loss charity RNIB Scotland says MEPs can work to set an agenda for far-reaching change.
It is holding an election hustings event this afternoon in the University of Strathclyde's Technology and Innovation Centre, with candidates from the main Scottish parties being quizzed on issues of concern to RNIB Scotland members.
The charity is urging all candidates for the EU elections on May 23rd to support a ten-year Europe-wide disability strategy that would aim to ensure public services, the built environment, and websites and apps are fully accessible.
"Our manifesto highlights areas where the EU has had and can have, a positive impact on improving the lives of blind and partially sighted people," said director James Adams. "Developments in European policy will be a point of reference whether the UK leaves the EU or not."
The manifesto, "Keeping Europe in Sight", says that while things have improved since a 2008 European Commission study found only 5.3 per cent of government websites were accessible, most public and commercial websites still aren't.
"Most people take access to information and online services for granted," said Mr Adams. "As more of our public services move online, digital inclusion has become more necessary than ever before. The EU Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies’ Websites makes a key step forward and emphasises that digital inclusion is a right, not a privilege."
However, RNIB Scotland points out that the European Accessibility Act was passed into EU law just as the last parliamentary term closed. With the anticipation that the UK will leave the EU, it is uncertain now whether its long-awaited provisions will apply here.
The manifesto is also calling on public bodies to maximise the use of EU procurement rules that allow them to award contracts for goods and services to sheltered employment schemes where at least 30 per cent of workers have a disability or are otherwise disadvantaged.
There are an estimated 8,000 people of working age in Scotland who are blind or partially sighted. But while the employment rate of disabled people in general continues to increase, the position of those with sight loss is getting worse with only one in four in employment.
"However uncertain our future relationship with Europe, as long as we have elected Members in the European Parliament they can add their voice towards achieving full social inclusion for everyone, whatever disabilities they may have," said Mr Adams.
"That would be a legacy worth leaving to the EU, and one which Scotland and the UK could follow in parallel and even take a lead on afterwards."
Read the Keeping Europe in Sight manifesto in PDF and Word versions. Audio and braille versions are also available.