Disabled people. The European Commission answers to the Luca Coscioni Association
Following to the international congress "Technologies and reforms against disabilities" held in Milan last January, Hon. Marco Cappato, member of the European Parliament and Executive Director of the Luca Coscioni Association, submitted last April 10 an oral question to the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Mrs. Viviane Reding. She answered last May 22 during the question time of the plenary session in Strasburg. (You can find hereby copied the main part of her answer. The full version is being translated into English by the European Parliament and will be soon available. For the original version please visit the website of the European Parliament). Hon. Cappato: "What initiatives is the Commission implementing and does intend to undertake to facilitate the access of people with disabilities to the communication technologies with particular reference to: 1. broadband 2. SMS and video calls at a cost price for deaf people 3. subtitling of television programs, starting from public service and political information programs 4. free adoption of the digital signature". Viviane Reding: "In answer to the Honourable Member's question, I should like to say that the European Union’s strategy in terms of people with disabilities has been laid down in the Disability Action Plan of 2003-2010, where access to ICT is a priority. You might also know that one of the pillars of the i2010 Action Plan is inclusion. On that basis, the Commission adopted a communication on e-accessibility in 2005 and a communication on e-inclusion is in preparation for the end of 2007 and in this text there will be a proposal for new actions when appropriate. We are not only working on concrete actions in that way, we are also encouraging our research efforts in the direction of developing new methodologies and new services for the disabled. We also have the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme – the CIP – which supports our ICT policy with pilot projects and so on and so forth. Several actions are proposed on e-accessibility and on something that will become very important in the future – ICT for the elderly. Very often they are the people, because there are people with disabilities and very often the elderly have those disabilities too and they represent a very high future percentage of our population. That is why ICT for the elderly for ambient living will become one of the strong elements of our future policies, not only in theory but also in research and in practical implementation. We are also supporting standardisation on e-accessibility. For instance, we have taken an initiative to harmonise at EU level the accessibility requirements for public procurement in the ICT domain through an EU standard, because we believe that common standards can facilitate the development of accessible ICT products by the industry, leading to more uptake which also means to lower prices. Therefore the one is linked to the other. There are also some vertical issues. In June 2006 we will propose strengthening the right of disabled users to access emergency services and introducing a Community mechanism to address e-accessibility issues. We will have an opportunity to discuss those problems with Parliament when together we will try to find a solution for the universal service. There will be a public consultation on the scope by the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008 – I do not know yet exactly when – but that will be the time for Parliament and our main stakeholders to come forward with proposals to see what we are going to do with the universal service. A very concrete problem should be solved the day after tomorrow, because then the Council is going to accept the European Parliament’s amendment at its meeting concerning the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Parliament introduced an amendment on subtitling, improving accessibility for people with disabilities to audiovisual media services. I hope the Council will accept this and then the new policy will go also in this direction. The question of digital signatures will gain in importance as secure electronic communications are developing between commercial and public service providers and users. The Commission will look at this issue in the follow-up to the European Electronic Signatures Directive and the e-government Action Plan, also bearing in mind people with disabilities. I can just tell you in a very personal way that the various presidencies of the European Union have all held a congress or an exhibition – something official and public – to show how the results of the research have been put into practice. I have always thought that this was a very good example to be taken up in our e-government activities, which are there to be proposed by the Commission and the European Union, but they have to be implemented by local governments most of all and by regional and national governments. I have seen the enthusiasm with which regional and local governments in particular have taken up the results of our work to provide practical help for the disabled people living in their region."