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This communication encourages the Member States to step up their promotion of initiatives to give improved access to information and communication technologies, particularly for people with disabilities and the elderly.
The aim is also to foster industry self-regulation in this area.
Communication from the Commission, dated 13 September 2005, on "eAccessibility" [COM(2005) 425 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
"eAccessibility" refers to initiatives taken to ensure that all citizens have access to Information Society services. This is about removing the technical, legal and other barriers that some people encounter when using ICT * -related services. In particular, it concerns people with disabilities and certain elderly people.
It is also about encouraging such people to use ICT and the Internet, and making them aware of the prospects the latter can open up for them.
The barriers to ICT accessibility relate in particular to:
- the lack of Europe-wide standards (e.g. there are seven different, incompatible text phone systems for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons);
- the lack of adequate services, and especially of websites that visually impaired persons can read and navigate through easily;
- the lack of products and services for certain groups of persons (e.g. telephone communication for sign language users);
- the lack of interoperable * solutions for accessible ICT;
- the lack of accessible content;
- the incompatibility of software with assistive devices (e.g. screen readers for blind users).
Many of these barriers could be removed. However, this requires firm cooperation, coordination and determination at European level.
ONGOING ACTIVITIES AT EUROPEAN LEVEL
A number of eAccessibility measures are under way at European level.
Accessibility requirements and standards
European standards on e-Accessibility would contribute to the proper functioning of the European single market. This would promote the development of new markets, competitiveness and employment.
The Commission therefore intends to continue to provide financial support for the activities proposed by the European standardisation organisations in the framework of the European Standardisation Action Plan.
Design for All (DFA)
DFA * involves a more thorough consideration of accessibility requirements when a product or service is being designed. It is now well established, though not yet widely practised. It is therefore essential to continue raising awareness of and promoting DFA in Europe. To this end, the Commission has set up a network of centres of excellence (EDEAN), which has over one hundred members.
A 2001 Commission Communication on the accessibility of public websites (COM(2001) 529 final) was followed by Council and Parliament resolutions in 2002. As a result, Member States have undertaken to make their public websites accessible in accordance with international guidelines. An eAccessibility Experts Group is enabling the Commission and the Member States to monitor developments. In addition, a European Committee for Standardisation workshop is exploring adequate solutions for devising accessibility certification schemes.
Benchmarking and monitoring
To be able to further develop appropriate European eAccessibility policies it is essential to have European data comparable across Member States. The Commission will build upon the ongoing European monitoring activities, taking account of the revised Lisbon * approach.
Almost 200 European research and technological development (RTD) projects undertaken since the early 1990s have improved accessibility by increasing our knowledge of the problems involved and the solutions required.
The current proposal for the 7th framework programme addresses the need to pursue and expand RTD in eAccessibility.
THREE PROPOSED NEW APPROACHES
In addition to promoting ongoing measures, the Commission intends to foster the use of three approaches not yet widely used in Europe.
Award of public contracts
The European Public Procurement Directives specifically mention the possibility of including accessibility requirements in conditions for tender. Some Member States already include accessibility requirements in their public procurement.
There is a clear need for consistency of accessibility requirements in public procurement in Europe. To this end, the Commission is preparing a mandate to the European standardisation organisations to develop European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services in the ICT domain. The Commission will also encourage debate on this subject with the Member States in the framework of the eAccessibility Expert Group.
Certification of accessibility
A number of standards exist or are under development defining how products and services can be made accessible. However, at present there is no reliable means to assess the conformity of products with those standards.
Certification schemes for accessibility would provide guidance to customers and clients who want accessible products and services. They would also provide manufacturers and service providers with recognition for their efforts.
With this in mind, the Commission will study the possibilities for the development and introduction of certification schemes. The possibility of self-declaration or third-party certification will also be investigated and the different options will be compared for their effectiveness.
Better use of existing legislation
The eAccessibility potential of existing European legislation needs to be fully exploited. Several European directives have clauses which could be used to encourage eAccessibility (e.g. the Employment Equality Directive, the Directive on Radio and Telecommunication Terminals and the Public Procurement Directive).
This Communication on eAccessibility contributes to the implementation of the recently launched " i2010 - A European Information Society for growth and employment " initiative. It incorporates the main findings of a consultation held in 2005 which showed that the accessibility of online services and products should remain a political priority for the EU in relation to ICT.
|Key terms used in the act|
For more information go to the European Commission's " Information Society " website.