In celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), the Council of Europe released a new report that focuses on children with disabilities in the digital environment. It found that the internet can be an equalising factor in accessing information and yet puts these children at greater risk than their peers.
The study focused on children with intellectual, physical, hearing and visual impairments in Europe. Its purpose was to provide recommendations to ensure that children can access the digital environment safely. According to the study, children with disabilities engage with the online space in a similar way to children without disabilities, and they rarely disclose their disability.
Their experiences in learning and spending leisure time online are hugely diverse and subjects include playing musical instruments, cooking and gardening. However, while benefiting from the digital environment, such children can also be disadvantaged disproportionally, even if they do not consider themselves more exposed to potential online risks than their peers.
“The digital environment can indeed be an ‘enabler’ and an ‘equaliser’ for children with disabilities, which provides them with additional opportunities to access information, to communicate, learn and play,” says Marija Pejčinović Burić, the secretary general of the Council of Europe.
“However, there are multiple barriers that impede their access to digital environment and may compromise their safety, including technological, financial and linguistic obstacles, with English dominating the online world,” she says. “We need to create a safe and inclusive digital environment for children with disabilities to enable them to integrate into the society, without undermining their right to privacy.”
Burić emphasises that governments, public institutions and private sector should fully involve children with disabilities in the design and delivery of policies that impact how they use the digital environment.
Click here to read the study online.