3.2 Legislation as a Support for Telecommunications Availability and Accessibility

Erkki Kemppainen, John Gjöderum and Mike Martin


Telematics, like technology in general, creates new opportunities for users. New technology should be developed with attention being paid to the needs of all users, in telematics as in ordinary consumer products.

Among users there are several groups of people. One can identify people with disabilities and older people who have partly common and partly different needs. It is possible to identify among them specific groups, e.g. people with impaired mobility, visually impaired or hard of hearing. Hence, the planning of technology should take into account different needs. Examples of solutions in this respect are large letters/figures/symbols on displays, understandable manuals, and proper weight, size and force needed to activate buttons.

In addition, many people with disabilities have such severe functional limitations that an individual adaptation of the product is necessary. Individual adaptation is possible, for example, with large displays, adapted keyboards and synthetic speech outputs.

In the relation between human beings and technology, one can distinguish between technology for all, technology for special needs and adapted technology. Social impacts involved in supplying different technologies call for social responsibility in the development and the use of technology.

These observations provide some basis for common objectives, which may require legislation in order to be realized. Some areas are pointed out in this chapter where more attention needs to be paid to the needs of people with disabilities and where a lot more remains to be learned.

User Involvment

Products are ultimately designed for users and hence their needs should be taken into account as comprehensively as possible. This should be done in a systematic way and new forms and methods should be developed for user involvement. User involvement can be realized, for example, by testing products in real situations, by establishing user panels and by participa-tion of users in different groups (see chapter 2.4).

COST 219 has tried to promote interaction and communication between different groups of participants with the help of seminars and national reference groups.

Insufficient information on user needs and the impact of technology on users may create problems in the use of devices. An example of emerging problems in the field of technology and their interactions is the interference caused in hearing aids and other electronic equipment by Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) telephones.

Hence, it is important that people with disabilities have their say in the planning of products, and in the preparation of standards and legislation. This should be done at the concept stage of the design, not when the product is in the later stages of development or already in production.

Furthermore, care should be taken that the views of users are as representative of users as a whole and not just of one section of the community.

Availability of Services

Availability of products, services and benefits is, of course, dependent on resources. Availability can be achieved by financial, legal and other social measures.

There are also legal measures that can ensure availa-bility in the market without disturbing competition between companies. For example, a dominant telephone operator may have an obligation to provide relay services. This has been realized by a license condition in the United Kingdom.

The availability alone of services and equipment does not ensure that they will be used. The customer must be aware of them. Hence, information and education about products, services and benefits is needed and must be actively promoted.

Accessibility of Services

It is also not sufficient that a service exists and is known. It must be accessible, as well. It is of little value to have a telephone booth with special facilities if it is placed where people cannot reach it.

Technology for all implies accessibility for all. One can speak about accessibility in relation to the physical and social environment in general, especially in relation to buildings and housing, transport, information and communication.

Different ways to achieve accessibility have been summarized as follows: firstly, by taking accessibility into consideration in the initial product design, leading to built-in accessibility in off-the-shelf products. Secondly by providing adaptations or alternatives as standard options, available on request from the normal vendor. Thirdly, by attachment of a special assistive device from a third party vendor, or fourthly, customization of the product (Thorén 1993).

Accessibility is also the main objective set out in the Guy Cobut Report by COST 219. It is argued in the report that, in order to achieve availability and accessibility of telecommunications services to all potential users, legislation and regulation at a European level are necessary. Legislation is needed to guarantee the fulfilment of Essential Requirements and the enforcement of relevant standards - which will also strengthen the market for products and services (COST 219, 1994).

The idea of accessibility and technology for all creates a new approach to technology. It is also apparent in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. "A universal approach refers to technology designed to be readily understood and easily used by all people regardless of mental or physical ability, regardless of language, age, sex, or any other attribute." While not specifically referring to universal approach to technology, the ADA assigns to assistive technology a major role in the provision of equal opportunity to access employment, public services, transportation, public accommodations and some aspects of telecom-munications (Parrino 1992).

Accessibility is also promoted by the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities adopted by the United Nations and by the Recommendation No R(92) of the Council of Europe.

Accessibility of Services

In the European Union, legislation and standards are linked. The Essential Requirements are set out in "new approach" directives. If the product is manufactured according to harmonized European standards adopted by competent bodies, the product is considered to fulfil the Essential Requirements. Standards are voluntary, but the compliance with relevant standard indicates compliance with the Directive. In principle the fulfilment of Essential Requirements can be achieved in other ways, but the most convenient method is compliance with the appropriate standard.

Harmonized Standards are standards produced, for example, by the European Standard Bodies namely CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation / European Standardization Committee) and CENELEC (Comité Européen de Normalisation Electrotechnique / European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization), ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute), ITU (International Telecommunication Union), normally based on work standards produced by International Standards Organization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Standardization and legislation will strengthen the market for products in the area of disability, and will provide a recognized basis for the production of equipment and services by commercial companies.

Problems may rise because of a lack standards, because of an unclear range of application, or if all needs have not been taken into account in the setting down of a standard. User participation in a proper way is essential for the success of standardization. Care must be taken that new legislation and standardization does not have the opposite effect to that intended.

European Community Legislation

When discussing legislation it is important to look at both national and the European Union legislation. The founding treaties are the primary source of European union law. The secondary law consists of regulations, directives and decisions. Also recommendations can be made and opinions delivered (Article 189 of the Treaty of Rome).

European Union and national legislation interact in many ways. In the implementation of legislation it is important to remember also the role of regulators at a national level.

In the field of telecommunications there is the Directive on Teleterminals (Council Directive 91/263/EEC of 29 April 1991 on the Approximation of the laws of the Member States concerning Telecommunications Terminal Equipment including the Mutual Recognition of their Conformity).

It would be important to take account in the legislation of all needs in the area in question. However, serious concerns with regard to the Directive on Teleterminals have been expressed. In the opinion of the European Disability Forum, a major problem is that it does not include Essential Requirements for suitability for people with disabilities. For example, switchboards at sale within Internal Market should be constructed in such a way that they can be used or made usable by blind and visually impaired people, telephones should be fitted with a telecoil to make them suitable for hard of hearing people wearing a hearing aid with a pick-up coil, and switchboards should be constructed in a way that offers free choice of telephone apparatus to be connected with the board.

Furthermore, the European Blind Union (EBU) believes that all telecommunications equipment covered by the Directive on Teleterminals should be able to be used by visually impaired people. The EBU therefore supports moves to revise and amend the directive to take account of these special needs.

In the European Union legislation one can also mention the Proposal for a Council Directive on the application of Open Network Provision (ONP) to voice telephony (OJ No C 263, 12.10.1992, p. 20.), where attention has been paid to the needs of people with disabilities. The Commission is now preparing a new proposal.

Care must be taken that only necessary requirements in relevant areas are harmonized and that there is also scope for national policies.

Several recommendations for the development of legislation are given in the above mentioned Guy Cobut Report:

(a) Rebate schemes to special user groups should be accepted in the framework of free competition as described in the Commission's proposal for a Council Directive on voice telephony. This rebate is to offset the additional cost incurred by disabled people in accessing and using the services available to people without a disability.

(b) An obligation on all service providers is necessary to provide appropriate services particularly in the framework of free competition. This should be done directly by legislation or by license conditions under regulations arising from legislation.

(c) Concerning the accessibility of telecommunications services, specific legal measures should be adopted at a European as well as at national levels. For example, public telephones should be widely accessible to disabled people.

(d) At the policy level, the principle of shared responsibility, which gives responsibility to all sectors, and the principle of universal accessibility should be adopted. These principles should be promoted at both European and national levels, in keeping with United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.


Europe is facing big challenges. The globalization of trade and production, the huge impact of new technologies on work, society and individuals, the ageing of the population and the persistent high level of unemployment were the challenges addressed by the European Commission in the Green Paper on Social Policy. This was followed by the White Paper on European Social Policy in which it was stated that the objective in the coming period must be to preserve and develop the European social model as we move towards the 21st century, in order to give people of Europe the unique blend of economic well-being, social cohe-siveness and high overall quality of life that was achieved in the post war-period. Competitiveness and social progress are seen as two sides of the same coin.

Outlines for the information society have been proposed by the Bangemann Report (Bangemann, 1994) and the Green Paper on the Liberalization of Telecommunications Infrastructure and Cable Television Networks (Parts one and two).

It is noted in the White Paper on European Social Policy that people with disabilities undoubtedly face a wide range of obstacles, which prevent them from achieving full economic and social integration. It is noted in this White Paper that there is therefore a need to build the fundamental right to equal opportunities in European Union policies.


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COST 219, Stephanidis, C., Kemppainen, E., Lindström, J.-I., Martin, M. and Wiederholt, M. (Eds.) (1994). The Guy Cobut Report.

COUNCIL OF EUROPE, (1992). A Coherent Policy for the Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities. Recommendation No R(92). Strasbourg.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (1994). European Social Policy - A Way Forward for the Union. A White Paper. Social Europe V.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, (1994 and 1995). Green Paper on the Liberalization of Telecommunications infrastructure and Cable Television Networks (Part one and two).

PARRINO, S.S. (1992). Technology and American Legislation on Disability: The Emergence of a Universal Approach. Computers for Handicapped Persons, Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference. Herausgegeben von Wolfgang Zagler. Schriftenreihe der Österreichischen Computer-Gesellschaft: Bd.60. Wien.

THOREN, C. (Ed.), (1993). Nordic Guidelines for Computer Accessibility. Nordiska Nämnden för Handikappfrågor NNH 4/93.

UNITED NATIONS, (1994). The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.