Persons with disabilities and special needs often face barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis, including the access to, and use of, information and communication technologies. These barriers include none or very little attention to incorporating accessibility features for online content (including websites), limited adaptability in the functionality of products and services, and weak policy frameworks to support the provision of an accessible digital environment. Association “Comunitatea Internet” jointly with the Association “Alliance of Organizations for Persons with Disabilities from the Republic of Moldova” (AOPD) has recently conducted a series of activities in the field of digital accessibility for people with disabilities and special needs in Moldova.
Thus, a roundtable was dedicated to this topic in Chisinau, attended by the Comunitatea Internet, AOPD, the Directorate for coordination in the field of human rights and social dialogue within the State Chancellery, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and the representatives of IT companies with experience and tangency in solutions development to ensure the fair use of digital products and services.
At the roundtable, representatives of civil society, the community of persons with disabilities, the technical community and the government discussed issues related to the digital divide associated with Internet access and the inability to use electronic services by persons with disabilities.
Galina Climov, Executive Director of the Alliance of Organizations for Persons with Disabilities from the Republic of Moldova, which brings together more than 50 organizations in this field, noted the importance of organizing and holding such discussions, in the context in which the recommendations of the event participants will be an important basis for adjusting the regulatory framework for the accessibility of digital spaces where information of public interest is placed.
According to her, the Republic of Moldova ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2010 and assumed access and adaptation of physical and information spaces. Having experience in monitoring the implementation of the Convention, the AOPD comes with the vision to designate an institution / authority that will be responsible for digital accessibility, and to follow an Action Plan with concrete objectives and indicators, based on which to perceive the obvious results in this field.
As Galina Climov noted, the need for these interventions becomes indispensable during the pandemic crisis, when people can only access digital spaces to find the necessary information. In order to remove barriers to digital accessibility, it was proposed to formulate comprehensive recommendations, including the introduction of policy measures and the development of criteria for the accessibility of digital spaces, taking into account international standards, as well as other important points.
Vitalie Celonenco, director of RTS, web development and consulting company, came up with a technical vision for implementing solutions that could ensure access for persons with disabilities and special needs to web services.
Summing up, Alexei Marciuc, Chairman of the Comunitatea Internet, stressed the importance of a multilateral dialogue involving the state, organizations for people with disabilities from the Republic of Moldova, civil society, the technical community and experts to ensure the successive implementation of provisions on access to the Internet and digital services for people with disabilities. He mentioned that everyone should have equal opportunities in developing their potential through ICT. This would mean accessibility not only in terms of physical access or skills development, but also in terms of design that should meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities.