Brussels, 15 September 2005
How Information and Communication
Technologies can be made more accessible for EU citizens :
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
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
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
The Commission plans to launch a major European Initiative on e-Inclusion in
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
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
How does the eAccessibility situation in Europe compare with those in US
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
- 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
- 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
a complete list of projects addressing several groups of people with
disabilities and older persons, using a wide verity of technologies, see
see also IP/05/1144