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Towards an accessible information society ?

23. December 2008 – 12:57 by Evika

According to the recently published Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions “Towards an accessible information society”(1.12.2008) eAccessibility and Web accessibility in particular have emerged as a high societal priority due to the growing importance of the Internet and the explosive growth in online information and interactive services, namely online banking, shopping, government and public services, and electronic communication with distant relatives and friends.

ICT-enabled government, participation and democracy can contribute to the objectives of inclusion in a variety of ways: by providing new ICT-enabled channels for delivering government services and making these services more accessible for people with special needs (eServices eAccessibility); making the democratic p process and governmental decision making more transparent, consultative and participatory through online information provision in all relevant languages and formats, deliberative initiatives and empowerment of advocacy groups that serve at-risk groups (eEngagement), and, by harnessing the same tools in a targeted fashion to make inclusion policies and initiatives themselves more transparent, participatory and accountable and by stepping up the provision of content relevant to groups at risk of exclusion.

Participation within an inclusive governance model is possible only if political, economic, technological and social barriers are removed and access to these opportunities is equitably distributed. Easy access to (ICT) is a prerequisite for participation. Facilitating this access entails, inter alia, removing barriers, making ICT tools easier for everyone to use, and encouraging people to use them by raising awareness of their economic and social benefits.

Progress in this area remains fragmented and slow, despite such targets and many actions involving public authorities, industry and civil society. Accessibility of public websites remains stuck at 5%. Only 10% of people aged over 64 are Internet users while the average in Europe is 47%. Without further intervention, the gap will only be halved in 2015 instead of 2010. The latest assessments conducted for the Commission show that accessibility of websites, communication terminals, TV sets and other ICT remains problematic, with lower-educated, economically inactive and elderly people at the greatest risk of being left behind.

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