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MEMO/05/320

Brussels, 15 September 2005

How Information and Communication Technologies can be made more accessible for EU citizens :
Frequently Asked Questions

What is the challenge?

There are several groups of the EU population at risk of exclusion from the information society, notably the elderly and people with disabilities. At the same time the use of Information and communication technologies (ICTs) is becoming more widespread, and our dependence on them is touching most aspects of our society.

To meet this challenge, the Commission is asking the standardisation organisations to develop Europe-wide accessibility requirements to be used in public procurement. For example, people with disabilities should be able to use computers at work and older people need to have access to services through the web. People that are hard of hearing should not have problems with interference when using phones.Visually impaired people or people with memory loss should also be able to use phones. Products and services need to be designed so that everyone can use them without difficulty.

What is meant by eAccessibility and eInclusion?

eAccessibility means overcoming the barriers and difficulties that people experience when trying to access goods and services based on ICTs.

Specific “assistive technology” devices can help improve accessibility (e.g. screen readers for vision-impaired computer users). Europe is also promoting a “Design for All” approach to products and services so that these become readily usable by as many people as possible. For many people with disabilities, a combination of both assistive technology and good design is needed to achieve an adequate solution. It is thus essential that mainstream products (designed for all) will interface seamlessly with assistive devices for those with specific needs.

eAccessibility is but one aspect of a broader EU policy on eInclusion, established as a key objective of Europe’s “Information Society 2010” (i2010) strategy to foster growth and jobs in the digital economy (see IP/05/643). eInclusion means ensuring everyone can participate in and reap the benefits of an information society. People should have equal opportunities to participate irrespective of gender or wealth, their level of ICT skills or where they live and work.

The Commission plans to launch a major European Initiative on e-Inclusion in 2008.

Why is it necessary to act now?

As new technologies and applications emerge, such as digital television, third generation mobiles, broadband communication etc, so new accessibility issues arise. Measures must be taken to ensure that such issues are addressed from the outset. The best way to develop “sustainable” markets is to act at the early stage of product development to prevent accessibility problems for a growing proportion of the population.

How can public procurement have an impact on eAccessibility?

“Public procurement” is the process by which public agencies acquire their goods, services, works and other supplies. This accounts for an estimated 16% of Europe’s gross domestic product (GDP). Significant contracts are usually only signed after an open and competitive tendering process has been completed.

The use of eAccessibility criteria in the technical specifications for public procurement would be of great benefit not only to disabled and elderly users but the general public, too. It would boost the market for accessible goods and services, thus reducing costs and increasing choice. A European Standard for accessibility requirements of products and services using ICTs could in the future be specified for all public procurement initiatives.

What are certification schemes?

Certification and accessibility “quality labels” offer guidance to customers and recognition to manufacturers and service providers, regarding the accessibility of their goods and services. It is important to gather data on the advantages and disadvantages of “quality labels” so that their use will actually promote innovation and improved accessibility of products for disabled users.

How can more standardisation help?

In general ICT standards help to avoid fragmentation of markets and facilitate mass production. Economies of scale for manufacturers should mean price reductions for the consumer. Agreeing common accessibility standards for ICT in Europe should also ensure compatibility and interoperability amongst accessible products.

How does the eAccessibility situation in Europe compare with those in US and Asia?

In the US, legislation already requires federal departments and agencies to procure only electronic and IT products and services that meet certain accessibility standards. Public procurement accounts for more than 25% of all purchases of ICT equipment in the USA, so this regulation made a major difference to the US market. Industry included accessibility as a built-in feature of their products and thus helped to create a larger choice of accessible ICT products for other markets.

Japan has been active in the e-Accessibility field in the recent years, mainly due to its ageing population. Legislation addressing people with disabilities is under revision and at the same time, requirements for the accessibility of ICTs are being built into Japanese standards.

What have previous EU initiatives achieved?

  • The agreement of Member States and European institutions to adopt common guidelines to make all public web sites accessible for people with disabilities (supported by an ongoing web accessibility initiative see http://www.w3.org/wai/ties/)
  • A European action to develop standards for accessible ICTs and assistive technologies.
  • The creation of a Network of National Centres of Excellence in Design for All in which over 100 European entities participate. Supported by an online resource centre in many Community languages.http://www.d4allnet.gr#
  • A curriculum of core knowledge and skills that future information professionals need to learn in order to be competent on accessible ICTs. http://www.idcnet.info/home

For a complete list of projects addressing several groups of people with disabilities and older persons, using a wide verity of technologies, see also:

http://www.cordis.lu/ist/einclusion/projects.htm

http://www.cordis.lu/ist/ka1/special_needs/projects/projects_main.htm

see also IP/05/1144


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