1. European education policies
The ICT4IAL project activities aim to empower learners with disabilities and/or special needs through improving their access to educational opportunities and learning. Although 'accessibility' is not specifically mentioned within the ET 2020 Framework, the project outcomes foster the uptake and usage of accessible ICT based educational resources to support the development of truly inclusive and equitable lifelong learning throughout Europe.
According to strategic objective 2 of the ET2020 Framework: Improving the quality and efficiency of education and training – 'all citizens need to be able to acquire key competencies and all levels of education and training need to be made more attractive and efficient'. Strategic objective 3: Promoting equity, social cohesion and active citizenship says that 'education and training should enable all citizens to acquire and develop skills and competencies needed for their employability and foster further learning, active citizenship and intercultural dialogue. Educational disadvantage should be addressed through high quality inclusive and early education'.
Further policies supporting equity in education are:
- Conclusions on Accessible Information Society (2009);
- Digital Agenda for Europe (2010);
- Post i-2010 Strategy (2010);
- Council Conclusions: Support of the implementation of the European Disability Strategy 2010–2020.
All project activities also aimed to achieve the Lifelong Learning Programme objective of ‘increased participation in lifelong learning by people of all ages, including those with special needs and disadvantaged groups', as well as the KA3 operational objective ‘to support the development of innovative ICT-based content, services, pedagogies and practice for lifelong learning’.
The Erasmus+ Programme 'aims at promoting equity and inclusion by facilitating the access to participants with disadvantaged backgrounds and fewer opportunities compared to their peers whenever disadvantage limits or prevents participation in transnational activities for reasons such as:
- disability (i.e. participants with special needs): people with mental (intellectual, cognitive, learning), physical, sensory or other disabilities;
- educational difficulties: young people with learning difficulties; early school-leavers; low qualified adults; young people with poor school performance'.
Opening up Education (2013) states that the 'wider use of new technology and open educational resources can contribute to alleviating costs for educational institutions and for students, especially among disadvantaged groups. This equity impact requires, however, sustained investment in educational infrastructures and human resources'.
This is possible if the accessibility needs of people with disabilities and/or special needs in relation to ICTs are taken into account. It can be argued that for this equity impact to be achieved one other requirement must also be fulfilled – ICT infrastructure must be genuinely accessible, based upon universal design principles. Open-access educational resources will only be truly open if they are designed to be accessible for all learners.
2. European information technology and accessibility policies
European policies on ICT and accessibility:
- Ministerial Declaration on ICT for an Inclusive Society (2006);
- Memorandum of Understanding on Digital Access for Persons with disabilities
- Standardisation Mandate 376
3. Contributions to international policies the European Union is a signatory to
Although not all EU policies in the area of Education and ICT specifically mention accessibility as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), this Convention has been signed by the European Commission and ratified by 161 EU countries. Therefore the applicability of the UNCRPD can be inferred in all EU policies.
All educational organisations have a duty to make their information accessible for everyone. The UNCRPD is a key driving force for change in the area. The Convention emphasises:
- the obligation to ‘provide accessible information to persons with disabilities’ (Art.4);
- the need for ‘the design, development, production and distribution of accessible ICT’ (Art.9);
- the right to education ‘without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity’ for persons with disabilities (Art.24).