Access to online services: NGOs tell EU ministers ‘no one should be left behind’

Europe, March 11 2016

The European Blind Union (EBU) and several other European NGOs published an open letter  warning the 28 EU Ministers in charge of Digital Affairs that their current plans for the web accessibility directive could deny millions of persons with disabilities and older citizens equal access to the digital world, exclude them from full participation in society and create unacceptable digital barriers to employment.

Web AccessibilityThe open letter, co-signed by 20 European NGOs, including the European Disability Forum, AGE Platform Europe and ANEC, raises concerns about EU governments’ proposals on the EU Directive on Accessibility of Public Sector Bodies’ Websites and warns that these could stop millions of persons with disabilities and older EU citizens from accessing the kind of digital content that everyone else now takes for granted.

Far-reaching exemptions proposed include intranet services, downloadable documents, public broadcasters’ websites and even publicly funded NGOs’ websites. In addition, some governments want a very narrow definition of ‘public sector body’, which would only cover the State, regional or local authorities. This definition would exclude public services provided by private entities in many countries, such as energy, water and transport services.

EBU President Wolfgang Angermann said “We go online, we use smart phones and we use apps, just like everyone else. This is about our right to access online information, content and services. This is about investing in our common digital future. This is about equality. I am shocked to see that some governments are prepared to go to great lengths to exclude us from the digital world.”

As the organisation representing 30 million European citizens who are blind or have low vision, EBU is urging all EU Ministers to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities – we are calling on legislators to take on board our recommendations and work with civil society to ensure an inclusive future for all citizens. The Digital Single Market cannot be a success if millions of disabled and older consumers are excluded. Everyone needs access to online public services. No one should be left behind.

Angermann warned “Governments have a unique opportunity to make a difference. They must seize this opportunity. We will not accept measures that would ultimately exclude millions of blind and partially sighted citizens from society.”

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