Accessible Europe 2021: Making ICTs accessible to all

ITU

European countries, in laying the groundwork for inclusive economies and societies in the years ahead, have set out to make information and communication technologies (ICTs) equally accessible to persons with disabilities.

Europe remains on track to achieve Target 2.9 of ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda, which calls on countries to create “enabling environments ensuring accessible telecommunications/ICTs for persons with disabilities” by 2023. But ensuring digital access for over 80 million Europeans with disabilities will depend on fostering innovative small and medium-sized enterprises focused on accessible ICTs.

Accessible Europe 2021, organized online on 23-25 March by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the European Commission, attracted more than 240 participants from over 40 countries, representing around 100 organisations from Europe and beyond.

Hosted virtually by the Government of Portugal, the event saw over 1300 stakeholders following livestreams online and engaging actively with #AccessibleEurope on social media.

Almost 50 expert speakers and moderators, sharing the virtual stage across 8 sessions, identified priority actions to advance the ICT accessibility agenda in Europe. A total of 97 individual interventions, ranging from high level speeches to expert presentations and innovation pitches, contributed to the proceedings.
Discussions addressed the need for international cooperation, regulation, standardization, and inclusive education, particularly in response to COVID-19. Participants also discussed smart cities and the best practices seen across Europe to ensure accessibility.

European accessibility agenda

Portugal – currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union – has made accessibility for all, including ICT accessibility, a top priority.

“Mainstreaming accessibility in the digital transition is a key policy driver for ensuring equal opportunities for all and that no one is left behind,” said the country’s Minister of Modernization of State and Public Administration, H.E. Alexandra Leitão. “By 2023 we want 90 per cent of digital services to have the seal of usability and accessibility.”

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The COVID pandemic has had exacerbated impact on persons with disabilities in terms of access to education, healthcare, employment opportunities. Accessibility of ICTs has become more relevant and more necessary than ever.”

ITU remains “committed to supporting all countries in advancing their efforts to make digital accessibility a reality,” she added.

The European Commissioner for Equality, H.E. Helena Dalli, reiterated: “When technology is accessible, it is a powerful tool for persons with disabilities to participate as active members of society on an equal basis with others.”

The European Commission’s new Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 strategy confirms the “importance of provisions relating to accessibility in telecommunication, audio-visual media services, public sector websites and key products and services.”

The Prime Minister of Serbia, H.E. Ana Brnabić, described her country’s progress on ICT accessibility and broader digital transformation, backed by international cooperation and ITU engagement.

Assessing ICT accessibility across Europe

This third edition of Accessible Europe, led by ITU and European Commission, attracted the support of over 100 partners across the region. “Digital accessibility is one of Europe’s top regional priorities,” said Jaroslaw Ponder, Head of the ITU Office for Europe.

“Over 15 per cent of people worldwide, including over 80 million Europeans, live with some form of disability,” Ponder added. “More than ever, regional efforts must be strengthened to ensure that, with digital technologies, no one is left behind.”

A new ITU report, ICT Accessibility Assessment for Europe Region, outlines the status of ICT accessibility measures in 46 countries across Europe. While EU directives require basic harmonization, each country needs to set more ambitious legal and regulatory requirements.
The report provides a set of recommendations advising different stakeholders how to implement ICT accessibility in different areas, from government to industry, academia to media and communication services to network operators.

Regional Competition for Accessible Europe 2021

Portugal’s National Communications Authority (Autoridade Nacional de Comunicações – ANACOM supported the Regional Competition for Innovative Digital Solutions for an Accessible Europe 2021.
The latest Call for Competition, issued in November 2020, attracted 97 submissions from 29 different countries, 15 of which were shortlisted by an Evaluation Committee with expert representatives from key European institutions.
The top-ranked organizations in each category are:
  • Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing: Visualfy (winner), SignLab, and World In Sign EU GmbH
  • Persons with visual impairment: RemmedVR (winner), Project Ray and Feelif
  • Persons with speech impairment: Voiceitt (winner), APP-SEC-NETWORK and Pictogram
  • Persons with cognitive and intellectual disabilities: Tu Dortmund University (winner), Capito App and Claro Software
  • Persons with physical disabilities: Magicview (winner), Travaxy and Lifetool

To promote innovation, ITU committed to working with Austria’s Essl Foundation on a joint initiative to foster start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises to build Europe’s ecosystem for ICT accessibility innovation.

Join the conversation online by following #AccessibleEurope

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