Working to make the world friendlier for people with disabilities

Malek Nejjai

Chief Diversity Officer, Amadeus IT Group

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I had the privilege to accompany my colleague Analia Garcia to the European Day of Persons with Disabilities conference which took place at the EU headquarters in Brussels earlier in December. Although it is impossible to tell (as Analia does not use any aids) she is blind and amazingly independent and brave. This trip reinforced my commitment to making the world friendlier for people with disabilities.

inside the airport


The event was organized by the EU with the support of the European Disability Forum (EDF) and examined the progress made to promote the rights of persons with disabilities based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There were some overwhelming facts and figures revealed during this conference: in Europe only, there are 80 million people with disabilities of which 180,000 are deaf and blind. As legitimate holders of rights in the EU, this population has to be protected and catered to.

The EU European Accessibility Act proposal

One of the key debates was around the EU European Accessibility Act proposal that would make many products and services in the EU more accessible for people with disabilities. The proposed Accessibility Act would take the form of a Directive, which is legally binding for all member states. The proposal foresees that certain products and services need to be accessible, including:

  • Smartphones, tablets and computers
  • Ticketing machines and check-in machines
  • Televisions and TV programmes
  • Banking and ATM machines
  • E-Books
  • Online shopping websites

The European Disability Forum President Yanis Vardakastanis and all the EDF members are campaigning for the proposal to be adopted in order to become a binding law as soon as possible. But more importantly the EDF firmly believes that the scope of the proposal should be widened to include more areas for the everyday lives of people with disabilities, such as buildings and accessible goods and services. To illustrate this point, the EDF used the example of accessibility to ATMs, saying that if they could not access the bank, then they could not access the ATM as well. Among the EDF’s priorities are a clear timeframe for quick implementation in all EU member states and not allowing easy exceptions.

In addition to the Accessibility Act, Michel Servoz, EU Director General for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion also mentioned how the United Nations Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities (UN CRPD) has brought forth new concepts, including freedom of movement and equal access to transport, independent living, asserting the right of self-determination, and the promotion of sensitivity to issues of gender and disabilities, i.e. of girls and  women with disabilities, which as Ana Pelaez Narvaez - UN Committee on the Right of people with disabilities and EDF board representative  - refers to as suffering from intersectional discrimination and represent 48 million in the EU, which would be the size of Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal combined.

As a company which values and strives for Diversity & Inclusion, Amadeus is pleased to see the topic of people with disabilities leading the EU agenda. As an IT provider for the travel and tourism industry, Amadeus has the experience and expertise to help this initiative take off.

We have successively aligned with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a mandate requiring airline websites (US and foreign airlines with websites marketing their services to US consumers) to be accessible to passengers with disabilities, as defined by the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Last September, during the celebration of World Tourism Day, our VP of industry Affairs – Svend Leirvaag - was vocal about how Investing in universal accessibility is a major opportunity for all. Taleb Rifai Secretary-General, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) declared that “travel is a human right and should be enjoyed equally by all segments of society. Facilitating travel for people with accessibility needs is an integral element of responsible and sustainable tourism.”

By pulling our efforts together we can definitely make life better for over one billion people across the world.