The European Union (EU) is an international organization comprised of 28 European ‘member state’ countries. The goal of the EU is to integrate these European countries, both economically and politically, through intergovernmental decisions for the greater good of all of Europe. In exchange for the free movement of goods and people across the region, member states must follow decisions made by EU institutions, such as the European Commission and European Central Bank.
The EU and its member states are the largest providers of “official” development assistance (as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) around the globe, totaling $62.3 billion in 2013. As such, the EU is committed to ensuring all European citizens have equal rights and access to information, including the Internet.
In the mid-2000s, EU leaders understood that as information and communication technologies were becoming more widespread in society and the economy, so was their potential impact on everyday life. According to the EU, 30-40% of Europeans are not benefiting from the Internet, due to either lack of affordability, access, accessibility, skills or motivation. In December 2008, the European Commission (the executive body of the EU, responsible for proposing legislation) adopted the Communication “towards an Accessible Information Society.” This document offers suggestions for improving both web accessibility as well as e-accessibility (access to electronic equipment) in general.
In December 2010, the EU ratified the United Nations’ “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” which reaffirms that all persons with disabilities must have access to all human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Convention is binding upon the institution of the EU, and identifies accessibility as one of its general principles. It requires that all member states take appropriate measures to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet.
A number of EU member states—Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK have implemented their own country-specific legislation regarding web accessibility. Let’s hope that this trend continues and that equal access to the Internet will be a reality for all individuals with disabilities in the near future.