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Accessibility Is ‘Opportunity For Business’, Minister Tells EAB

The work of the government’s newly-launched e-Accessibility Forum will include demonstrating to businesses that accessibility is a financial opportunity rather than just a cost, the Minister for Culture, Communication and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, told E-Access Bulletin in an exclusive interview this week.

Led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the e-Accessibility Forum ( http://www.bis.gov.uk/e-accessibility ) will bring together more than 60 members from government, industry and the voluntary sector, working to deliver more accessible digital services, content and goods for disabled consumers. Some of the forum’s work is detailed in an e-Accessibility Action Plan which will be updated quarterly ( available as a PDF at: http://bit.ly/8Xh71O ).

“The main challenge is to overcome the perception that e-accessibility costs money, that it’s a burden on business as opposed to being an opportunity for business,” Vaizey told EAB. “We want to really embed e-accessibility into a whole range of agendas, making sure that it is part and parcel of everything we do.”

Overall awareness of e-accessibility needs to be improved by promotion of the forum and its work, he said. “It’s all very well for me to say that government should take a lead, but one can pretty much guarantee that there will be a lot of individual initiatives from government that won’t take account of the e-accessibility agenda, and therefore it’s very important for me to publicise it as widely as possible to my colleagues, so that they know about this agenda and they understand what their obligations are towards it.”

Government will play two key roles in the forum, said Vaizey. The first is as a “co-ordinator”, part of which will involve publicising best practice on, for example, web access standards or manufacturing of accessible goods. Second, government will help set the agenda for a specific ‘Regulatory work stream’ – one of five work streams detailed in the Action Plan – which will involve work on the EU Framework Directives for Electronic Communications Networks and Services, and applying public procurement standards.

Overall, the forum’s approach will primarily be one of working with and educating organisations rather than forcing regulation. However, Vaizey said this should not be a barrier to progress, as the companies he has discussed these issues with so far are proving receptive. “I have to say, I’ve found the private sector very willing to engage in this agenda. I think they see it as absolutely in their self-interest if they can provide products and equipment everyone can use. I don’t feel like I’m bullying the private sector into doing anything, I feel very much that this is part of a very strong partnership.”

The Action Plan also features a ‘Websites services’ work stream, which plans to issue regular updates on web access issues, and highlight and encourage best practice. As more government services move online, the whole e-accessibility agenda will become increasingly essential, said Vaizey.

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