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  INFORMATION SOCIETY  -  E-inclusion, viewed from both sides

Signing up to the i2010 Strategy for development of the digital economy, Ministers from 34 European countries met in Riga (Latvia), last June, to define a pan-European plan of action aimed at reducing digital exclusion. It is specifically a matter of halving, between now and 2010, the number of persons who do not use the Internet in groups threatened by e-exclusion.

the Maritime Medical Consultation Centre at Purpan Hospital (Toulouse – FR)
Tele-medicine is aimed at specific population groups apart from elderly or isolated people. Above, the Maritime Medical Consultation Centre at Purpan Hospital (Toulouse – FR) dispenses speedy healthcare for sailors. A team of five doctors works in shifts, seven days a week, to analyse symptoms, provide diagnoses, and prescribe treatments at a distance.

© CNES/Manuela Dupuis
"Allowing all Europeans to play a part in the information society, on an equal footing, is not only a social need but also, at economic level, an incredible opportunity for industry. The implementation of measures adopted at Riga will constitute a major step towards realisation of this objective for European countries,” observed Viviane Reding, the Member of the Commission responsible for Information Society and Media during this meeting.

At the present time, 30 to 40% of Europeans are, for various reasons, excluded from the possibilities afforded by ICT(1): high cost, difficulties of access, lack of skills or motivation. Only 10% of people over 65 years of age use the Internet within the European Union, whereas 75% of those aged between 16 and 24 use it on a daily basis. 3% of public web sites comply with minimum standards for Internet accessibility, which represents a real problem for the 15% of European citizens suffering from some sort of disability. For senior citizens, as for people with a disability, ICT should allow them to prolong their active lifestyle and home support. But is it such a panacea?

Although everyone is in agreement regarding the additional autonomy they can provide, the increasing role played by “machines” nevertheless poses certain questions. Tele-medicine, for example, can cause fear. For Anne-Sophie Parent, Director of AGE, a European platform for the elderly, “many are reluctant to place their trust in a system without a human face. ICT should not be imposed, but its use should be encouraged and made easier.” Similar views are held by medical practitioners. For Dr Philippe Auriol, a French allergy specialist who is very active in the Médecins Maître Toile(2) association, “human relations, which allow for exchanges via gestures and mutual recognition, will never be totally replaced by an electronic relationship. Bio-detectors and video consultations cannot take the place of the essential aspect, namely human contact.”

The risk of rejection
As for the improved digital access offered to disabled people, this may indeed represent a form of inclusion. Philippe, who suffers from pigmentary retinitis (a genetic disease affecting 400,000 people in Europe), is positive: “Without these technologies, I could not carry out my work as an accountant. But, in the long run, it is more the imagination that accompanies the disability, rather than the disability itself, that serves as an obstacle for recruitment.” This point of view is shared by Vincent Harel, Administrator of the Association for Mediation and Information on Disabilities (France), for whom “it is, above all, the negative representation of the disability that is not compatible with the job”.

In broader terms, even if ICT provides interesting prospects for vulnerable people, it can never take the place of a social and human effort to integrate and look after these groups. By trying to increase autonomy by means of technology, are we not running the risk of creating a new form of dependency? The weakest groups could become ‘dependent’ on dehumanised technological infrastructures that are beyond their control. New technologies are certainly to be enthusiastically welcomed when they offer new prospects, but what are we to think of them when they are introduced to make up for increasing shortcomings in a society that uses technology to evade its problems?

(1) Information and Communication Technology
(2) The MMT brings together doctors who are passionate about the Internet, who try to encourage use of the web among their colleagues. www.mmt-fr.org


  The Riga objectives, between now and 2010  
 
  • Halve the number of people not using the Internet in groups threatened by exclusion.
  • Ensure access to high-performance Internet infrastructures over at least 90% of the European territory.
  • Ensure that all public web sites can be accessed by everyone. Implement actions in the field of digital “literacy”, with a view to halving the disparities affecting groups threatened by exclusion.
  • Put forward recommendations on accessibility standards and common approaches, which could become mandatory for public contracts between now and 2010.
  • Assess the need for legislative measures in the field of on-line accessibility. Take into consideration demands relating to such matters during revision of the regulatory framework for electronic communications, which commenced in June 2006.
 

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