Funds for economic recovery must promote digital accessibility

Funds for economic recovery must promote digital accessibility

On 21 June 2022, we co-organised an event on how COVID-19 recovery funds can promote a more inclusive and accessible Europe. The event was co-organised with Microsoft and G3ict and touched on public procurement. It included panellists from the three organisations, ONCE and the European Commission. A recording is available.

The speakers highlighted the following conclusions:

  1. Persons with disabilities must be involved and closely monitor how EU countries use the recovery funds.
  2. Funds should invest in digital education and training in accessibility for ICT students and professionals.
  3. Funds must invest in public infrastructure and transport, as they are interconnected with digital accessibility.

James Thurston, Vice President for Global Strategy and Development at G3ict, opened the meeting by stating that the COVID-19 recovery and Resilience Facility (a 627 billion euros fund to support EU countries on economic recovery) should be used to guarantee an accessible and inclusive digital transformation.

Humberto Insolera, a member of our Executive Committee, underlined that public procurement must promote digital accessibility. Advances in the area must be underpinned by standards and funds that promote accessible solutions.

Esa Kaunistola, Director at Microsoft, highlighted that recovery funds should be used to bridge the digital divide and ensure an accessible digital space.

Félix Poirier, Policy Officer at the European Commission, shared that digital transformation is 20% of the COVID Recovery and Resilience Facility. Plans to use these funds must address the European Pillar of Social Rights. He presented examples: Spain will improve the accessibility of communications with public authorities; Italy will improve access to social services; Portugal will enhance the accessibility of digital infrastructure. He recommends that disability organisations get involved in the platforms that monitor the plans’ implementation.

Jeremy Rollison, Senior Director of EU Government Affairs at Microsoft, emphasised that the pandemic showed how lack of access to technology impacts people. He added that the COVID-19 Recovery funds lacked specific and explicit criteria for accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Álvaro Couceiro, our Social Policy Officer, said there is a good basis to ensure accessible digital solutions, composed of standards and accessibility requirements in public procurement regulations. He mentioned the importance of investing in digital education.

Olivier Magritte, Coordinator at Belgian Disability Forum, shared that Belgium’s plan does not pay enough attention to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. He shared his fear that the size of the envelope, coupled with the short timeline for implementation, will mean persons with disabilities are excluded.

Almudena Alcaide, R&D Director at ONCE, said that inclusion and accessibility should have been explicitly mentioned in the COVID-19 Recovery Facility.

Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Senior Expert at Directorate-General for Employment, European Commission, outlined the requirement to “buy accessible” in public procurement directives. The monitoring of the funds will be supported by the standards, the “Buying Social” guidance, and the EU Disability Strategy.