Europe targets at-risk groups for 'e-Inclusion'

Riga, Latvia, Ministerial Declaration

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With groups such as the elderly, people with disabilities and the unemployed increasingly at risk of being shut out of the Internet-based expansion of information services, the European Union and other European countries have committed to an ambitious e-Inclusion program aimed at breaking down barriers.

By 2010, according to a declaration signed this week, countries will halve the gap in Internet usage of these at-risk groups, boost broadband coverage to 90 percent of the EU population and ensure that all public Web sites comply with accessibility standards.

The inclusion problem is a big one, according to the Ministerial Declaration signed in Riga, Latvia, by representatives of 34 European countries.

As many as 50 percent of EU residents reap no benefits from information and communication technologies, according to some estimates, mainly because they lack access to terminals and networks, as well as easy-to-use and affordable technologies. Different generational attitudes toward technology also play a role.

The declaration listed several major problem areas:

  • Only 16 percent of people over 55 have Internet access.

  • Only about 3 percent of public Web sites comply with the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility standards, hindering access to Web content and services for people with disabilities, who make up nearly 17 percent of the EU population.

  • Although Europe overtook the United States in 2005 in the number of broadband lines and broadband subscriptions are growing by 60 percent a year, only 13 percent of the EU population can access broadband services.
  • Overcoming those problems is a prime goal because public services are increasingly being delivered via the Internet. By October 2004, the declaration states, 84 percent of Europe’s basic public services and businesses were online, with 40 percent of public services fully interactive.

    As the European population ages and demands for social services such as health and education rise, e-government and e-health are becoming major strategies for delivering services.

    To tackle the declaration’s goals, the European Commission said it is preparing a set of initiatives for incorporation into a wider EU e-Inclusion program to begin in 2008. Money will be provided through EU state aid and structural and rural development programs.

    The commission said it will also support market-based e-Inclusion initiatives by encouraging large-scale projects through a new competitiveness and innovation program and by promoting e-Inclusion research through the EU’s Research Framework Programme.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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