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.
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
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.
BSc (Hons) Physics, Bristol University
Wheelchair user since childhood.