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Social aspects

Patrick Roe

With the advent and widespread use of telecommunications, the question arises of how different groups of people, and in particular how people with disabilities, are coping with present telecommunications equipment. It also raises the further question of how these people will cope with future technology. This could potentially pose a problem also for other parts of the population, particularly elderly people.

There is little doubt that telecommunications are playing an ever increasing social role in our daily lives. For the majority of us they partially fulfil our fundamental need of reaching out to other people while also helping us organize our social and professional lives. For many other people, they are a lifeline to the outside world offering them the opportunity to work and take an active participation in society. In this case they obviously play an even more important role. It will still be some time before we are able to fully realize and appreciate the overall influence of telecommunications on our lives and habits.

Present and future technology hold exciting new perspectives, but also potential dangers for people with special needs. The question is to know whether all this new technology will lead to greater integration or further exclusion and to evaluate the influence these social and human considerations have had on our legislation.

This section looks into these various aspects and yields some preliminary answers and recommendations. It begins with a historical perspective of how people with disabilities have been considered and treated in the past and looks into current trends. The next chapter supplies an overview of current legislation and includes a list of important points to be kept in mind when drawing up new legislation. Practical experience gained through intensive casework and studies conducted in Ireland and Germany give an insight into the problems and benefits of telework for people with disabilities. The last two chapters yield preliminary results and recommendations from several studies on the needs, attitudes and expectations of elderly people towards telecommunications.

Further research is indeed required in this field, but this section should serve as a useful basis to all those working to ensure that this unique chance of integrating everyone, whatever their needs, is not lost.

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