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.
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.”
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.”
Regional Competition for Accessible Europe 2021
- 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