Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Oftel Advisory Committee on Telecommunications for Disabled and Elderly People (DIEL)

  1.  I welcome the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee on behalf of DIEL on EU activity to develop and co-ordinate policy on e-commerce. In particular I wish to comment on the draft Action Plan eEurope: An Information Society for All and whether this will achieve its objectives insofar as they apply to disabled and elderly people.

2.  The application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the Information Society, promises great opportunities to disabled people for greater access to information, education, training, employment and social activities, in general the social inclusion which is a key objective of the draft Action Plan.

  3.  Many disabled people, particularly those with sensory impairments, do not now have satisfactory access to telecommunication services. A major issue is the lack of affordable special terminal equipment to meet their access requirements. Existing EU Directives have not been effective in stimulating the production of such equipment, and the current Review of the Framework for EU Communications Legislation appears to exclude legislative obligations for such provision.

  4.  Access for disabled people to the Information Society depends on the availability of affordable accessible terminal equipment and software, in addition to websites and services that are fully accessible (see "Amended Targets" para 8.7 of Annex 1, A Draft Response from DIEL to the EU Communication eEurope: An Information Society for All). In spite of a broad commitment to access, the draft Action Plan includes no specific commitments to targets for suitable terminal equipment.

  5.  The Information Society and Elderly People. The increasing amounts of information, social services, and commercial activity over the Internet will make it essential for elderly people to have some means of access to this, direct or indirect. The draft Action Plan fails to identify Older People as a key area for action. This is a serious omission and a programme should be put in place to identify the issues and meet the needs of older people (para 4 of Annex 1).

  6.  If disabled and elderly people are to have access to the benefits and opportunities of the Information Society, access for them should be part of the targets set for key areas of the Action Plan. This has not been done in the draft (see paras 8.1-8.10 of Annex 1). The targets set in the area "eParticipation for the Disabled" are too distant and weak, relying too much on commitment and too little on action. The EU should be setting the standards for an inclusive Information Society, with specific, challenging targets (para 8.7 Annex 1).

  7.  If disabled and elderly people are to be fully included in the Information Society, the EU and Member States must create an environment where access is designed in at every stage, from websites and information systems to affordable accessible terminal equipment. Disabled people should not have to pay more than others for the same or equivalent services or equipment to access these.

  8.  I welcome the eEurope Initiative and support its aims, but believe that the Commission and Member States should consult with disabled and elderly people and the organisations which represent them to ensure that the targets set and the action programmes undertaken produce the inclusivity which is aimed for.

Bob Twitchin

28 February 2000

    —  Chairman of the Oftel Advisory Committee on Telecommunications for Disabled and Elderly People (DIEL);

    —  Member Oftel Consumer Panel;

    —  Associate of the Employers' Forum on Disability;

    —  Represented the Forum at EU Conferences on "Opportunities in Teleworking and Distance Learning for Disabled People" and "Access to Information Technology for Disabled People";

    —  Member Association of Disabled Professionals;

    —  Executive BT 1973-1995. Most recently in Network Strategy Department;

    —  Research Scientist ICI Fibres Ltd. 1968-1973;

    —  BSc (Hons) Physics, Bristol University 1968;

    —  Wheelchair user since childhood.

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