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:
Social 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!