Towards an Accessible Information Society - European Commission Communication 2008  Final
As our society is evolving to an 'information society', we are becoming intrinsically more dependent on technology-based products and services in our daily lives. Yet poor eAccessibility means many Europeans with a disability are still unable to access the benefits of the information society.
This issue of e-accessibility has received high policy visibility and attention in recent years. In 2006, European Ministers agreed targets in their 'Riga Declaration' to deliver significant progress by 2010. In 2007, benchmarking showed that the pace of progress was still insufficient and that further efforts were needed in order to achieve the Riga targets.
Web accessibility, especially the accessibility of public administration websites, has emerged as a high priority due to the growing importance of the Internet in everyday life.
The Commission considers it is now urgent to achieve a more coherent, common and effective approach to e-accessibility, in particular web accessibility, to hasten the advent of an accessible information society, as announced in the Renewed Social Agenda1. Through this Communication, the Commission describes the current state of play, establishes the rationale for European action and sets out key steps to be taken.
To achieve a common and coherent e-accessibility approach:
- European Standardisation Organisations (ESOs) should pursue wider e-accessibility standardisation activities to reduce market fragmentation and facilitate increased adoption of ICT-enabled goods and services.
- Member States, stakeholders and the Commission should stimulate greater levels of innovation and deployment in e-accessibility, in particular through the use of the EU research and innovation programmes and the Structural Funds.
- All stakeholders should make full use of the opportunities to address e-accessibility within existing EU legislation.
The Commission will include appropriate e-accessibility requirements in revisions or new legislative developments.
- The Commission will boost stakeholder cooperation activities to enhance the coherence, coordination and impact of the actions. In particular, a new high-level ad hoc group will be mandated to provide guidance on the overall coherent approach to -accessibility
- (including web accessibility) and propose priority actions to overcome e-accessibility barriers.
To speed up progress in the special case of web accessibility:
- ESOs should rapidly adopt European standards for web accessibility, following the establishment of updated web guidelines (WCAG 2.0) by the World Wide Web Consortium.
- Member States should step up work on making public web sites accessible and jointly prepare for swift adoption of European web accessibility standards
- The Commission will monitor and publish progress and may follow up at a later stage with legislative action.
E-accessibility means overcoming the technical barriers and difficulties that people with disabilities, including many elderly people, experience when trying to participate on equal terms in the information society.
If everyone is to have equal opportunities for participation in today's society, the full range of ICT goods, products and services need to be accessible. This includes computers, telephones, TVs, online government, online shopping, call centres, self-service terminals such as automatic teller machines (ATMs) and ticket machines.
The EC Communication is accompanied by a Staff Working Paper which provides further analysis and background to the proposed actions.
The European Commission has also published a background document briefly stating its reasons for placing a priority on e-accessibility and why it must act to making new technologies accessible for all disabled citizens.
Download the EC Staff Paper and the background document from the right-hand panel, in PDF format.