Infinite web, countless barriers

By Christian BlockLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

Digital inclusion has many facets. One of them being an equally accessible digital world to all people according to the "Design For All" principle. Progress has been made. However, accessibility is rarely considered from the outset.

Tom Erdel encounters dead ends on the Internet almost every day. He then has to try other ways to get the required information, asking someone for help or, for example, running automatic text recognition over a screenshot reading out the website's content to him. Tom Erdel is blind.

Yet, the transcription department coordinator of the Centre pour le développement des compétences relatives à la vue (CDV) actually gets through the web quickly. Anyone who, as a visually impaired or blind person, has their strategies and knows how to use their software, can navigate the web comparatively quickly, he says, demonstrating it immediately with a screen reader reading out text elements. The voice playback is set so fast that it sounds like a fast-forwarded audio track, impossible for untrained ears to keep up with. Alternatively, Erdel reads the currently activated element with his fingers on a Braille display, an output device equipped with movable elements displaying a text excerpt in Braille characters. By the way, such a device can easily cost 10,000 euros, reimbursable by the state.

Visually impaired people must first grasp the concept when accessing a new website. "We work with large lists. Headings, links and form fields serve as orientation points", Erdel explains. For example, he recognises the heading elements on and can thus orient himself quite easily. However, the website is not completely barrier-free. For instance, alternative texts are missing (also called alt texts), so-called picture descriptions.

The increasing digitalisation of more and more areas of life, which has accelerated once again in the wake of the pandemic, also means a higher risk of exclusion for some people. According to the EU Commission, more than 80 million people in Europe have some form of disability. Five per cent of the EU population do not use the internet because of their handicap. At the same time, less than ten per cent of websites in Europe are fully usable for people with disabilities. Last but not least, this is also a question of fundamental rights, as the last annual report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights revealed. The document, published in December, states: "Not being online can affect people in the exercise of their rights (…), including their rights to freedom of expression and information. (…) Those who lack regular access to the internet, the necessary skills to make use of these services, or cannot access a digital product or service due to a physical or cognitive disability, increasingly risk being excluded and face difficulties in making use of their rights."

You want more? Get access now.

  • One-year subscription

  • Monthly subscription

  • Zukunftsabo for subscribers under the age of 26


Already have an account?

Log in