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Public IT must be accessible: EC

Reading frames it as a business issue

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The European Commission has called for all public IT procurement contracts to stipulate that the technology be made accessible to the elderly and disabled.

In its public consultation on the need for accessibility in IT, the EC surveyed 500 public agencies including universities, IT suppliers and user groups. It revealed that 90 per cent said accessibility should be a contractual requirement, 14 per cent said services needed to be fully interoperable, and 88 per cent said that EU institutions should take a lead in proposing these measures.

There was no real consensus on how these requirements should be enforced: respondents were evenly divided between voluntary, mandatory or self-certification checks on compliance, the EC says. However, almost three quarters were in favour of a product certification scheme.

Information Society commissioner Viviane Reading said that there were still 90 million people in the EU who could not properly benefit from technology because it was not accessible to them. She argued that bringing technology to everyone in Europe is more than a social or ethical issue: "Making the information society accessible for all is for me both a social necessity and an economic objective. The more accessible new technologies can be made, the bigger the potential markets for [vendors]."

Commission proposals will be set out in a Communication scheduled for September 2005. Its current policy is that harmonisation throughout the EU should be achieved voluntarily, but it reserves the right to get legislative if things don't improve in the next couple of years. ®

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