The European approach
A change in the tide
Over the past 50 years, Europeans with disabilities and the elderly have benefited from enormous advances in science and technology. In response to market demand, specialised equipment has been developed – often by small and medium-sized enterprises – to alleviate many of the problems associated with functional impairment.
More recently, European research and technological development in so-called ‘assistive’ technologies has become a clearly defined field in its own right. Critical to this development was the EU’s ‘technology initiative for disabled and elderly people’, which ran between 1992 and 1994. Then with the inclusion of the EU’s Framework Programmes (FP) for research, the area received valuable impetus. For example, in the fourth FP (1994-1998), a special section for the disabled and elderly was created in the ‘telematics applications programme’.
But it was in the fifth FP (1998-2002), with the introduction of the ‘information society technologies’ (IST) programme, that IT applications for people with disabilities and the elderly widened their scope. In 2002, the arrival of the Sixth Framework Programme, or FP6, introduced a new concept to the IST domain, ‘eInclusion’.
“A society open and accessible to all” This is the Union’s underlying disability strategy. It focuses on increasing co-operation between the Commission and Member States, promoting full participation for people with disabilities, and finding ways to ‘mainstream’ disability in policy formulation.
Regulations and standards in all facets of life must be adapted to achieve this goal. The Regulatory Framework on Electronic Communications is one important example of how the EU is adapting its legal framework to include all citizens.
At the policy level, FP6 and the European Research Area have assigned significant value to several initiatives – eEurope, eInclusion and eAccessibility – where ‘e’ stresses the importance of electronic technology in opening up opportunities for the disabled and elderly.
Regulatory Framework on Electronic Communications Adopted on 7 March 2002, this regulatory framework comprises six directives. The need to consider users with disabilities is mentioned in several places and has led to the creation of the INCOM group (Inclusive Communications). Together with the ‘eAccessibility Expert Group’, it will follow and guide the implementation of policies, regulations and research, especially in relation to the development of design-for-all and assistive technologies.
European Disability Forum (EDF) The EDF is a European umbrella organisation representing 70 European non-government organisations, 17 national councils and 37 million disabled citizens from all EU and European Economic Association countries. Its chief mission is to advance disabled people’s human rights and to promote equal opportunities in the EU institutions and Member States.