Last Thursday, 27 September 2018, saw the first European M-Enabling Forum take place in Düsseldorf, Germany. M-enabling has of course been an annual event in Washington for some years now, but a forum in Europe is a welcome addition to the programme, providing the opportunity for European companies and organisations to keep pace with global developments in accessibility and more specifically with trends specific to Europe. It also provides a localised opportunity for networking with colleagues working in associated and complimentary fields.
The forum itself had a rich agenda of keynote speeches and panel discussions with titles such as ‘The Sky is the Limit! New Paradigm for Independent Living’ and ‘Policies, Programs and Strategies to Promote an Accessible ICT Ecosystem’. And this was delivered, amongst others, by representatives from the ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies and the European Commission, responsible for EN 301 549, the current standard for digital accessibility in Europe and the much anticipated delivery of the EU Equality Act. (Which I am reliably informed is on course for 2020.)
Alex Leblois, President of the UN’s G3ict, opened the forum with the following summation “At no time did we have such a conjunction of favourable factors to promote the full participation of persons with disabilities in our digital world”. A reference of course to accessible technologies, accessibility policies and standards and engagement from the disabilty community itself – and he is correct. However it is also clear from topics that were missing from this year’s agenda that there is still much to do, particularly in raising awareness of the importance of document accessibility for the blind and partially sighted.
In recent years many steps have been taken by European companies to help those with disabilities achieve equality of access. Sectors that provide essential services such as government, education, health, banking, insurance, utilities and telecoms have greatly improved access for their physically disabled customers as well as improving digital access for those who are visually or cognitively impaired through accessible websites. It is now time, however, for document accessibility to be properly addressed as part of a truly comprehensive accessibility strategy.
As the global trend towards digitization continues, companies must ensure that the billions of documents they deliver and present digitally are also available in accessible formats and I hope that next year’s M-Enabling Europe Forum will include this topic as part of its otherwise flawless agenda.
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