Monday

28th May 2018

Focus

For many, the Internet remains a mystery

  • 'Welcome to the European Commission,' says the computer, in English, but with a strong Flemish accent (Photo: Tambako the Jaguar)

It is with remarkable finesse that Bart Simons opens the browser on his laptop and navigates to the website of the European Commission.

His hands glide over the surface of a separate, synthesizer-like keyboard sticking out from underneath the computer, little white stubs poking his finger tips.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“Okay, let’s see,” he says, his eyes shooting from left to right with no apparent direction.

Simons, who works for AnySurfer, an organisation that trains web designers to make sites accessible for people with disabilities, doesn't actually see. He reads the braille display and relies on speech-recognition software to surf the internet.

"Welcome to the European Commission," says the computer, in English, but with a strong Flemish accent. "The speech software has been configured to Flemish," Simons explains, "and because the design of the web page lacks a small piece of code, it doesn't switch to the English-speaking voice automatically."

It is little things like these, trivial as they may be, that highlight the fact that despite commitments made and resolutions adopted, the vast majority of websites, public and private, are not in line with international accessibility standards. To people with disabilities, this means being left on the wrong side of a growing digital divide.

“The commission website is actually fairly accessible,” says Simons. “Most are far worse. Some are just not accessible. That is annoying when I want to book a flight, for example, make a bank transfer, or order groceries. But it is just wrong when it comes to government websites, because there is no alternative. If I am not able to access the website of a shop, I can go to a different one. But there is only one site where I can do my taxes on.”

Some 15 percent of the population in Europe today is believed to have some form of disability. They have had the right to equal access to the internet since the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into force in January 2011, but no EU legislation is yet in place.

The EU has made commitments from as early as 2002 to make sure that all public websites are fully accessible, but has until now relied on voluntary agreements.

The EU’s digital agenda states that the commission would “make proposals by 2011 that will secure that public sector websites (and websites providing basic services to citizens) are fully accessible by 2015," but no such proposals have yet been made. The deadline is at "risk of delay", according to the commission progress overview.

Businesses, however, have been reluctant to adapt their websites. Changes would include providing headlines and image descriptions for blind people, easy-to-read versions for those who are cognitively impaired, and sub-titles or sign language interpretation for deaf people.

According to a commission study from 2008, the latest available, only 2.6 percent of all websites and 5.3 percent of public websites investigated were found to be in line with the so-called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines drawn up by the World Wide Web Consortium, the creators of the web.

Its director, Tim Berners-Lee, once said that “the power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

This issue will only get more significant in the future. By 2020, some 25 percent of Europeans will be over the age of 60 and likely to have some loss of vision, hearing, or any other ability that is often taken for granted.

“My patience is running out,” says Simons. “There has been a lot of smooth talking, hard commitments and grand declarations, but nothing has been done so far.”

Disabled people live in 'terror' of the future

As EU governments cut corners on their budgets, welfare spending is usually the first on the chopping block. The decision can be made at the stroke of a pen. But the on-the-ground effects for welfare-dependent disabled people can be devastating.

Romanian IT developer: 'Stairs never stopped me'

Having survived medical mishaps in Communism and the reckless driving of neo-rich Romanians, an IT developer with spinal muscular atrophy has stubbornly stuck to his motto: "Never give up, no matter how hard life hits you."

EU parliament leaders in disability pledge

European Parliament leaders have committed themselves to better upholding the rights of persons with disabilities, starting with making their political websites more universally accessible ahead of next year's EU elections.

EUobserved

How radical is Italy's Savona really?

Italy is in a political crisis because president Sergio Mattarella has rejected Paolo Savona as a cabinet member, for his views on the EU.

Visual Data

EU budget: Biggest cuts and increases

The European Parliament accused the EU Commission of not providing clear figures for a comparison of the proposed and the current EU budgets. We take a look at the main differences.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman requests more lending transparency from European Investment Bank
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  3. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  4. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  6. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  8. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  12. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  11. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  12. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations