Brussels, 19 Sep 2005
The Commission has adopted a communication on eAccessibility, designed to encourage the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) that are accessible to all, including people with disabilities and the elderly.
According to the communication, people with disabilities constitute around 15 per cent of the total European population, and many of them currently encounter difficulties when using ICT products and services. The same can be true of older people, and with 30 per cent of Europeans expected to be over 60 by 2030, the Commission is keen that these products and services should be made as widely accessible as possible to avoid the risk of digital exclusion.
'The demographic change in Europe is a tremendous social challenge that [ICTs] can help to tackle,' said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. 'New electronic devices, services and technologies can be used and further developed to enhance the older generation's quality of life, support independent living and help them contribute their experience and talents to our economy and society. In addition, I see a whole new market developing for products and services which are easier accessible for all.'
The communication integrates the results of an online consultation held in early 2005, which revealed strong support for EU initiatives to promote greater accessibility. There are already a number of activities ongoing at EU level designed to enhance eAccessibility, including the promotion of European standards and a 'design for all' methodology, as well as the funding of research projects designed to deliver innovative products and solutions. However, many solutions are still targeted at a small market -essentially people with disabilities and some older citizens - and approaches still differ greatly from country to country.
The challenge is to move away from the idea that the market for accessible products is restricted to the elderly and those with disabilities, and instead encourage companies to design products and services that are accessible for the whole population. Through its communication, the Commission aims to promote a consistent approach to eAccessibility initiatives in the Member States on a voluntary basis, as well as fostering industry self-regulation.
In order to achieve these aims, the communication proposes the use approaches not yet widely used in Europe: accessibility requirements in public procurement, accessibility certification, as well as better use of existing legislation. The first implies that public agencies in Europe would require all ICT products and services that they buy to be accessible. With public procurement accounting for 16 per cent of total GDP in Europe, such a move would help to create a larger market for accessible ICTs, believes the Commission.
On the second point, it is felt that the development and introduction of certification schemes for accessible products and services would help to better guide customers and provide due recognition to manufacturers and service providers for their efforts. Finally, the Commission will investigate how related EU legislation can be used to enforce eAccessibility, such as the equal treatment in employment directive, the directive on radio and telecommunication terminals and the public procurement directives.
The Commission sees the promotion of eAccessibility as 'a social, ethical and political imperative'. While the communication aims to encourage Member States and industry to pursue initiatives on a voluntary basis, the Commission says that it will continue to raise awareness and gather evidence over the next two years. In 2007 it will evaluate the effectiveness of the approaches proposed in the communication and, subject to an impact assessment, may consider introducing legislative measures to further promote eAccessibility if deemed necessary. This work, the communication concludes, will contribute to the previously announced 2008 European Initiative on eInclusion.
For further information on eAccessibility, please: