There are many reasons to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities: awareness raising, political commitment, accelerating change, and upholding equality of opportunity: a very European value. But I have my special reason: one of the first actions of the Digital Agenda for Europe to be completed was the signature of Memorandum of Understanding on access to works by persons with print disabilities. In practice, this will spur the production and Europe-wide circulation of works in special formats, like e-books.
At the European Commission we try to be very active in fostering access to ICT to persons with disabilities, and the use of ICT for inclusion purposes. Personally I was shocked when I learnt that about 80% of websites have accessibility problems. That is not good enough at a time when digital technologies are becoming an essential part of daily life, and sometimes even the default channel for delivering public services.
It is clear that we have to do more – and that falls into two categories of work. The first is better EU policies and legislation on the one hand, and research and development on the other hand.
So, here a few of my favourite examples from what I have learnt in recent months.
1. The award-winning Robobraille service, for example, converts digital documents into Braille or audio files on demand, in minutes, via a simple email. Originally invented by two Danish developers, it was tested and adapted to other European countries thanks to a EU grant. Now it is great and free multilingual service (free to non-commercial users). For example: here is the audio version of this blog post, as prepared by Robobraille.
2. REACH112 is testing the Europe-wide emergency number ‘112′ in real-time text, sign language, lip reading, or voice to make sure impairment or disability are not an obstacle anywhere in the EU. The video at the top is presented by Gunnar Hellstrom from the leading Swedish pilot site in the project, and the creator of Total Conversation
3. DTV4ALL aims at maximising the benefits of the switch-over from analogue to digital television which is taking place across Europe. My hope is that it takes the 15% or so Europeans who have difficulties in accessing digital TV for various impairment down to zero!
My one message from all of this: everyone deserves the chance to participate in the digital world. That’s why I’m supporting the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.