There are roughly 80 million people in the EU with some form of disability. That’s one in six of Europe’s working age population and, for businesses, represents significant spending power.

Most high-street shops have a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments to provide access to disabled people (though the laws are often poorly enforced). But as shopping increasingly moves online, should similar laws be passed in the digital world? Should websites also be legally required to consider accessibility, just as physical premises are?

On 1 March 2015, Debating Europe attended an event in Brussels hosted by the European Disability Forum and Google. The event brought together innovators and tech entrepreneurs from across Europe, and explored how technology can help people with disabilities to live more independently. We spoke to some of the people around Europe who are designing and building such technology, and we asked them their thoughts on accessibility.

We also interviewed Evelyn Gebhardt, a Social Democratic MEP from Germany who was hosting the event in the European Parliament, to get her perspective as a policymaker. We put a question to her from Karel, who argued that digital technology and social media was having a huge impact, but that too many people with disabilities were missing out:

Image of a citizenSocial media IS already used by many local, regional but also national governments and institutions, as well as by cities. The question is: are all citizens having access to this? And the answer is NO. Why? Europe counts over [80 million] people with disabilities, a big portion of them is not able to use social media due to the usage of R(ich)I(nternet)A(pplications)…

Should it be compulsory for websites and applications to consider accessibility? What did Evelyn Gebhardt think?

We also spoke to Holger Dieterich, Co-Founder of Wheelmap, a website which started in Germany and is creating a global dataset of accessible locations for people with disabilities. All of the data on the website is crowdsourced, with people scoring public and private locations like banks, hospitals and post offices on their accessibility.

How would he reply to Karel?

Should it be compulsory for websites and applications to consider accessibility by people with disabilities? As shopping increasingly moves online, should laws be in place to guarantee access to commercial sites? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC BY-NC-NDJisc and Matt Lincoln

20 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    It sounds great, but frankly accessibility for all websites sounds impossible. Small organisations and individuals would not have the capacity and the budget to create the sounds and visual options needed to make their websites sufficiently accessible for the blind and/or deaf or/ people who cannot use the mouse to navigate. However, with all public information and access online, some mandatory level of accessibility of for instance government websites should not be too much to ask.

  2. avatar

    Online shopping websites are already quite accessible to me in comparison to the ‘physical premises’. Rather than making those more accessible, why can’t existing plans be properly implemented so I can go to an actual shop for once… !

    07/12/2017 Michal Waltner, Campus Tel Aviv Program Manager at Google, has responded to this comment.

  3. avatar
    Neil Clarke

    Wouldn’t it be a question of the equipment to be used by the blind/dead rather than the websites

    • avatar
      Sean Nicholson

      Cannot see too many dead people needing to access websites. Deaf people however need a link to sign language video relay services which is provided on their websites. Virgin and EE have such a service InterpretersLive! , provided by Sign Solutions.

    • avatar

      I agree

  4. avatar
    Kimmo Linkama

    Within domains such as government, local public administration, banking, insurance, healthcare et al that may affect citizens’ possibilities to run their lives as well as their fellow citizens without disabilities, yes. On the other hand, if I’m running a business service aimed at industrial and tech companies, this kind of “compulsory” accessibility will not create any benefit for anyone, but only increase the costs of online presence for my micro-company.

    Of those 80m people with some form of disability, I’d wager max 20 (individuals, not million) may be remotely interested in what my company offers. There is always the balance to consider between “compulsory” and “necessary”.

  5. avatar
    Gregory Smyth

    Yes. One area the bureaucratic EU could make a positive impact on life is to look at how access can be increased for those who have difficulties using the web.

  6. avatar

    Government websites? Sure! Isn’t it their responsibility to serve all citizens? Then start there!
    Schools? Why not?
    Hospitals? Sure!

  7. avatar
    Bart Van Damme

    I’m all in favor of providing accessibility, but it should be voluntary, not mandatory. By the same logic, we should also provide all websites in all languages, just in case someone visits who does not know the site’s actual language.

    Maybe they should focus on making politics, and especially legislation, more accessible to people.

  8. avatar
    Florin Onciu Cosmin

    it should not be mandatory on all websites. although is a good thing and we should all care about people with disabilities, the rethoric here is disastrous. You can not simply impose a developer to make his personal website accessible. Nobody should get involved in personal matters!

  9. avatar

    Yes but dont we need the tools to access the website before we find a way to navigate any website. Voice control for blind people would allow you to begin a search for a website then the search would need to be filtered and again and again etc . This would be very difficult to facilitate.
    For deaf people I assume this would be a little easiler.

  10. avatar

    You should perceive that Alibaba are usually not the
    sellers of the products. They are a B2B sourcing platform they usually list 1000’s of

  11. avatar
    web development services Pakistan

    We are Web design company offering quality Website Design, Website development, digital marketing, graphic design of sites for small to corporate level.

  12. avatar
    web development services Pakistan

    Acrosofts is a web development services in Pakistan that helping you to develop custum web design and web applications to attract your impressive clients.

Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More debate series – Society in the Digital Age View all

By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Privacy Policy unless you have disabled them. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.