Accessibility and social inclusion

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Session subject: Access, Inclusion and Empowerment

Session description:

Public Access to ICTs

Access to information and communications: A key issue for development

Access to information and communications supports development by empowering people, especially more remote and marginalised communities and those living in poverty, to:

  • Better exercise their political and socioeconomic rights
  • Become more economically active and productive
  • Learn and apply new skills, and find better means for earning a livelihood
  • Enrich their cultural identity and expression
  • Participate in decision making and address personal development and social challenges
  • Enrich the collective knowledge-building process.

But inequalities in access limit the effectiveness of ICTs in addressing social needs

In this context, public access to information and communication rights have become key issues for the emerging information society. But not everyone is fully connected and those who are “connected” often suffer from poor-quality and high-cost links. Many simply do not have the economic means to connect to the internet – particularly those who do not have electricity, and those who, even if they have smart phones, do not have computers and multimedia-capable internet links. Inequities in access also affect people in developed countries due to limited access to infrastructure, or constraints related to age, economic means and gender. As a result, ensuring that all members of society can benefit equally from access to ICTs, and take part in shaping the interconnected world, is becoming an increasingly important priority.

What Is Public Access?

While there is no commonly agreed definition of “public access”, these are usually facilities that allow any member of the public to make affordable use of computers with broadband connections, along with associated ICT tools, such as printers and scanners, as well as technical support for using the internet.

Public access facilities may be purpose-built state-supported “telecentres” or “community multimedia centres” (CMCs), or private “cybercafés”. Locating public access services in existing institutions situated in the community, such as libraries and post offices, is often a particularly effective method of deploying public access.


European Norm 301549: Accessibility requirements for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe

Approved on 19 February 2014. This new standard (EN 301 549) is the first European Standard for accessible ICT. It is intended in particular for use by public authorities and other public sector bodies during procurement, to ensure that websites, software, digital devices are more accessible – so they may be used by persons with a wide range of abilities.

Luis Jorge Romero, ETSI’s Director General said: "Addressing accessibility is now becoming an important market-driven necessity and ETSI aims to help industry and operators to avoid creating technologies that exclude users from the information society. We also aim to help increase the quality and usability of products and services for everyone, with standardization processes that ensure consideration of 'Design for All' issues in every newly developed standard if appropriate."

CEN, CENELEC and ETSI have made sure that the accessibility requirements contained in their documents are consistent with other global accessibility requirements. This will help to expand and open-up the international market for accessible ICT products and services.

EAA - European Accessibility Act

“There are EU Member States that have advanced a lot when it comes to the accessibility of persons with disabilities in the society, and some others that have been left behind. The EU has the important role to push its Member States to take steps towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities in every aspect of life, as it is foreseen in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that it has ratified. That can only happen if its citizens with disabilities have access to goods and services as all the other citizens. The adoption of a broad and legally binding European Accessibility Act will be a strong booster for growth and employment in Europe, while it will also reinforce the European Commission’s recently published legislative proposal on the accessibility of public websites”, stressed EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis.

The Act represents an opportunity for the Commission to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which has been signed by all Member States and ratified by a majority of EU countries and by the EU itself.

Commissioner Reding confirmed that the European Commission will take on this commitment and confirmed that the Act is included in its 2014 work plan. The Vice President also referred to the preparatory work that the Commission has carried out to assess the impact of possible measures to improve the accessibility of goods and services in the internal market. The objective is to present a proposal for binding measures that would combine both, improvement of accessibility and growth potential for EU companies.

In December 2013 the Commission organised a high level meeting with a number of CEOs of European companies to discuss the impact that the Act could have on the goods and services they provide.

Directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the accessibility of public sector bodies' websites

See here for an article with the latest news of the Directive by Jan Jellinek.

Tough new rules requiring all EU public sector websites to be accessible to users with disabilities - enforced by (1) close monitoring, (2) a public complaints system and (3) fines set at a level high enough to be "effective and dissuasive" against non-compliance - moved a step closer in the end of last february after members of the European Parliament voted to beef up a proposed European Directive on Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies' Websites. A strengthened version of the law, with more than 70 amendments, was backed by MEPs by 593 votes to 40, with 13 abstentions.

To the 12 categories proposed by the European Commission such as social security benefits and enrollment in higher education, the parliament also wants the new rules to apply to websites run by "entities performing public tasks", such as energy utility companies and companies providing outsourced public services such as transport or health care. Groups and associations of public sector bodies would also be covered by the law as amended, as would "websites developed, procured, maintained or co-financed by public sector bodies or co-financed by EU funds."


Aspects of the Information Society are present in all spheres of our life and have become an integral part of our daily activities at work, home or when socializing with other people.

The Internet and ICTs are a catalyst for change; they are also a perfect tool that can permit vulnerable people to fully discover the opportunities offered by the Information Society and fully enjoy their human rights as European citizens.

ICTs can provide an essential, enabling environment for the empowerment of all, especially people living in vulnerable circumstances. The United Nations post-2015 agenda incorporated ICTs as a critical success factor for the inclusion of vulnerable people.

« … the mark of a just society is one which includes and takes care of its most vulnerable citizens. The same has to be true with the Internet; we all will be judged by how inclusive access to, and use of, the Internet is. I recognize there is much work to be done by all of us. (…) » - underlined Mr Fadi Chehadé, President and CEO of ICANN, during the IGF 2013 in Bali.

To allow the inclusive development of our societies, it is crucial to allow the participation of all in the building process of the Information Society, and first of all by making the Internet accessible to all.

In it’s final resolution, the 52nd session (2014) of the UN Economic and Social Council reaffirmed that “Empowerment and participation are important for social development and that sustainable development requires the meaningful involvement and active participation of all, including children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples and other disadvantaged and vulnerable persons and groups”.

The participation of vulnerable people in the Information Society is one of the growing Internet policy issues that requires dialogue and the common vision at the EU level.

We recommend discussing the issue of social responsibility of different actors in the Information Society, especially with regard to disadvantaged groups. We propose to engage in a close discussion with private sector and launch a multistakehloder dialogue on what needs to be done and how we could achieve the objective of better integration of vulnerable/disadvantaged groups in the Information Society in the respect of human rights and fundamental principles.

Questions to discuss:

  • Social responsibility of actors;
  • The role of private sector (such as ISPs) with regard to social responsibility ;
  • Disadvantaged groups in the Information Society;
  • Human rights and disadvantaged groups in the Information Society.


  • What was the main aims of Web Accessibility Directive?
  • What could be the impact of a policy document like European Accessibility Act?
  • Is the ICT's "EU market" loosing market to "US market" because they have the section 508 in action at a time and we only now have a EN301549 that need to be put in practice?
  • Could the Accessibility be an Innovative driver of the ICT’s development?
  • How the EN 301549 will help to expand and open-up the international market for accessible ICT products and services? What could be the impact to the market?
  • Is the EN 301549 "Accessibility requirements for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe" the section 508 of Europe? Are we, actually, loosing money because the US have the section 508 and we don't have nothing similar until now?
  • In the field of Internet, what could be done by the stakeholders responsible by the Internet Governance to improve the accessibility?
  • What is the importance of ICT Public Procurement to improve accessibility features?
  • What is the potential of ICT's Accessibility to Inclusion of people with disabilities?
  • Are we (Europeans) loosing something because we don't have an Act like section 508 in US?
  • What is the vision of EDF to implement the EN301549?
  • Do we need sanctions to improve the ICT innovation?
  • How to see the accessibility like a driver of ICT innovation?
  • What role does public access to ICTs play in social inclusion?
  • What role do institutions such as libraries play in European social inclusion policies?
  • How can policymakers support the provision of public access?
  • What steps can be taken to develop the enabling environment for public access - is there a role for public private partnership, with regards to broadband provision?
  • What is the relationship between e-Government and public access?
  • How can public access institutions support accessibility for people with disabilities?
  • What targets and indicators can be adopted to enable measurement of progress in providing public access, and in assessing impact?

Key Participants

  • Public Access to ICTs
    • Ellen Broad, Manager of Digital Projects and Policy, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
  • Inclusion
    • José Martinez Usero, Responsible for International Affairs at Funka Nu and Mandate 376 CEN Project Team leader.
    • Bart Simons, European Disability Forum (EDF) representative
  • Empowerment
    • Katrin Schuberth, Stiftung Digitale Chancen, coordinated the project Digital Literacy 2.0 [1].


  • Jorge Fernandes, Coordinator of ACESSO Unit from the Information Society Department of the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, IP / Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science.
  • Yuliya Morenets, Executive Director of TaC-Together against Cybercrime Int.

Remote Moderator

Heidi Fritze


Dominik Golle

Click here for contributing to or reading the session's minutes.

Digital Facilitator

Dominik Golle

Referring to EuroDig's proposals

[1] Some Initiatives of Digitale Chancen

Session twitter hashtag: #eurodig_ws2