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April 23, 2003

EC emphasises need for e-inclusion

From: Electric News Net - Apr 23, 2003

by Frances Gleeson

The European Commission is renewing its calls for more inclusive on-line services that are accessible to people with disabilities and older citizens.

Speaking at a ministerial symposium on e-Inclusion in Crete, Erikki Liikanen, European Commissioner for enterprise and information society, said a key aim of the eEurope 2005 Action Plan is to stimulate the creation of services that are accessible to all people, covering areas from e-government to e-health and e-learning.

Liikanen said people with disabilities often face a plethora of difficulties in availing of telecommunications, computer and Internet services -- a deaf person making phone calls between one EU country and another, for example, could face the stumbling blocks of different call centres, regulations and subsidies, and sometimes different technologies. Telecommunications services for people with disabilities are either too few in number, too poor in quality or too expensive, Liikanen said.

"Inclusion is a key element in the success of our activities and accessibility is one very essential part of it," he said. "This year is also the European Year of People with Disabilities. We should focus attention on the objective that people with disabilities should be able to enjoy the information society as well as any other citizen in Europe."

The Commissioner talked about the extra financial burden faced by people with limb disabilities, due to the extra time it can take them to do what they have to do on-line. Too often, services like phone banking and on-line shopping services have interfaces that require sight, hearing and mobility, excluding many citizens. Special Internet access terminals that include assistive technologies tend to be expensive and hard to find, he said.

On the positive side, Liikanen said special working and coordination groups to drive accessibility have now been established, and there is a growing awareness among public workers about the need for accessibility. Webmasters of public organisations are now being trained in the use of Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines for sites, and Web accessibility is being included in public procurement calls.

The Commissioner said that models for public procurement should be harmonised across Europe, with a toolkit with information on purchasing accessible electronic educational material, public Internet access points, Web site construction, Web authoring tools that support accessibility and other services.

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