Making disability less of a handicap
Today, access to technology, and technology related services, is unevenly distributed. People with disabilities and elderly people face a greater risk of being left out, especially as Europe’s population continues to age.
By 2020, up to 30% of Europe’s population will be over 60 years old. The number of people with disabilities is also predicted to rise from today’s conservative estimate of 11% to around 18% by 2020. This increases the potential for widespread discrimination as the digital age marches forward.
Bridging the digital divide With the broadening of this so-called ‘digital divide’ – the gap between those who can and cannot access and use electronic technology – a number of challenges need to be addressed. New technologies are often too highly priced for certain groups lacking the economic or practical means to access them. Many high-tech solutions, software and hardware, can be difficult for people with physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities to understand and use. This raises the issue of insufficient education and training opportunities, and a widening gap between those with IT skills and Internet access and those without.
The European Commission and other organisations are doing their best to send the message that having a disability or being elderly need not be a handicap to leading an independent, productive life in society. Research programmes and campaigns aimed at promoting an information society for all draw their inspiration from several trends in society. These include shifting demographics, human rights issues, participation versus discrimination, future technologies and convergence, sustainability issues, and multidimensional policy-making.
Although disabled people and the elderly have long been a priority at both EU and national level, there is still much that needs to be done to improve their overall quality of life. With ever-improving technology, the aim will be to make sure it serves all members of society equally.