Commission takes low profile on e-accessibility
The Commission has opted for a careful approach to integrating senior citizens and people with disabilities into the information society, favouring standardisation over regulation.
The United States introduced strong legislation in the 1980s to ensure that e-accessibility is a requirement for all procurements of IT equipment. Initially, the Commission also considered this to be a possible approach. However, the results of a public consultation held at the beginning of 2005 showed that 'soft legislation' using standardisation would be more appropriate. Europe-wide accessibility requirements would concern first of all public procurement, the biggest customer for IT equipment. This will, the Commission hopes, boost a wider market for easily accessible goods.
E-accessibility concerns devices as well as software and services.
The EU approach rests on three pillars:
- Accessibility requirements in public procurement: The revised directives on public procurement contain specific references to using 'Design for All' and accessibility requirements as possible selection criteria for tenders.
- Certification and assessment: The Commission plans to set up a certification mechanism for accessible products and services.
- Exploration of legal measures: Existing member states' and foreign legislation on accessibility will be examined. The introduction of appropriate measures may be part of a planned overhaul of e-accessibility legislation due in 2008.
A set of complementary actions in the field of standardisation comprise:
Increasing skills on how to create e-Accessibility and how to avoid creating new barriers, and foster its translation into member states' law.
- Design for all: A widely known prerequisite for IT products, which is still not widely enough applied.
- Web accessibility for all online services of public interest will be assessed and certified according to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Guidelines.
- Awareness-raising among key stakeholders.
- Benchmarking and monitoring. The Commission will set targets for accessibility and monitor progress.
- Research and technological development on e-accessibility has already been an important element in the 5th and 6th Research Framework Programmes and will stay on the Commission's research agenda.
The promotion of an inclusive European information society is a central element of DG Information Society's newly launched i2010 initiative and a precedent to the more global objective of e-inclusion. This has social as well as economic reasons:
- As more and more core functions of modern societies, including public services, become accessible using electronic communications, the means of this communication should not exclude the elderly or the disabled form being part of our society.
- Cost-cutting benefits of migrating public services to electronic media can only be effective if there is no need to maintain 'real-world' services alongside them in order to accommodate those who do not have access to the internet.
- Senior and disabled citizens together make up a huge potential of customers for IT products - if goods and services are adapted to their needs.
Addressing the i2010 Conference in London on 6 September 2005, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding declared e-accessibility the first of three ICT flagship initiatives within the i2010 programme. According to the commissioner, "the first flagship aims to make our ageing society a better place to grow older with independence and dignity. The flagship will build on our research initiatives on assistive living, eHealth and eAccessibility and be used as a basis for prioritising both research and policy in the coming years".
In the 'Geneva Declaration' of the World Summit on the Information Society, the representatives of the peoples of the world declared their "common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilise and share information and knowledge[...]".
The 'Lyon Declaration' of the The First World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities on the Information Society contains a commitment to "an Information Society for all, without exclusions; to a model of Society based on respecting human rights, democracy, transparency, freedom to communicate and equalitarian access to knowledge, and a more balanced, equitable and fairer Society that is more respectful of cultural diversity".
- On 23 September 2005, the Commission will hold a workshop on Digital Inclusion and Participation
- On 21 October 2005, the UK Presidency will be hosting a conference on e-accessibility
- During the second half of 2007, the Commission will review progress made on e-accessibility
- In 2008, the Commission will launch a European initiative on e-Inclusion