In the EU today, there are more than 30 million blind and partially sighted people who are unable to access most websites. Put that together with all of Europe's elderly and disabled people – many of whom also have online accessibility problems - and it gets a lot higher.
The blind cannot always enjoy all the TV and on-demand programmes in the same way as sighted people can, or get the most out of shopping online. For me, this is not only a market issue – but also one of fundamental rights.
Our project to build a Digital Single Market is about removing barriers for everyone, so that all Europeans can get the best from the digital world.
That means making sure that people with disabilities in general get proper online access to the everyday goods and services that other people take for granted: a huge step towards their full and equal participation in our society and economy.
I sensed a good deal of frustration and fatigue from the European Blind Union (EBU) delegation and other associations like the European Disability Forum about the progress of EU legislation relating to disability issues, and also the scope of some laws that are now being negotiated.
Accessibility of public websites is a priority. It is now time that EU governments move forward so that negotiations on the Web Accessibility Directive can properly begin with the European Parliament.
I learned a lot from the meeting with the EBU, that apps, for example, are often the easiest way to access a service or information, more so than using a website. I also learned that while there are several good apps available – like Blindsquare – there are still problems of access to apps in general for blind people.
We should also do more to improve the accessibility of private sector online content, so we are continuing to work on the European Accessibility Act. This will complement the Web Accessibility Directive, and also aim to remove the barriers around Europe that come from different national accessibility requirements.
As with this Directive, there are similar problems of process with the 2013 Marrakesh Treaty. This is very important for the blind community because it creates a mandatory copyright exception that benefits visually-impaired people and allows for the cross-border exchange of special format copies of books (Braille, large print, and so on).
The EU could play a key role in providing books in formats that are accessible to them.
Unfortunately, the European Union has yet to ratify the Treaty because it is being blocked by Member States. As is well known, this is not because of a disagreement over the Treaty's substance but because of a conflict over the nature of the EU’s legal authority for ratification. We should not allow this to be a detriment to blind and partially sighted people.
We have to get this moving forward, if necessary by taking legal action. However, that approach would take a lot of time – many months, if not years - and I remain confident that we can find a quicker solution.
In any case, the Commission will work closely with the Luxembourg EU Presidency to get this process unblocked as soon as possible. Securing the Treaty's ratification is a priority.
We are trying hard to move forward in all these areas. But I also know that Europe can do more to help the blind and partially sighted to get more from the online world.
After all, the DSM is intended to benefit all people, and that means digital inclusion and accessibility for everyone.
Another blog soon.