European Commission Welcomes Agreement to Make Public Sector Websites and Apps More Accessible
On May 3, 2016, negotiators of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission agreed on the first EU-wide rules to make the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies more accessible, especially for the blind, the deaf and the hard of hearing.
The internet has become an essential way to access and provide information and services. It is therefore more important than ever to make sure that everyone can perceive and understand websites and mobile apps, and interact with them properly.
Around 80 million people in the EU are affected by a disability. As the EU population ages, the figure is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020. A common approach to ensure web accessibility will contribute to an inclusive digital society and to unlocking the benefits of the Digital Single Market, for all European citizens.
“It is not acceptable that millions of European citizens are left behind in the digital society,” said Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society. “The agreement that we have just reached will ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the internet and mobile apps, to participate in society to a fuller extent and to lead a more independent life.”
More motivation for the public sector to become digitally accessible
The Directive will cover public sector bodies’ websites and mobile apps, from administrations, courts and police departments to public hospitals, universities and libraries. It will make them accessible for all citizens – in particular for the blind, the hard of hearing, the deaf, and those with low vision and with functional disabilities.
“I’m confident that the Directive will bring renewed focus on the issue of digital accessibility,” said Anne Thyme, Product Owner of Accessibility at Siteimprove. Among other things, the Directive requires regular monitoring and reporting of public sector websites and mobile apps by EU Member States.
“The requirement to continuously report your work with accessibility is an interesting aspect of the Directive,” Thyme said. “Until now, public sector bodies in Europe have been urged to make their websites accessible, but in most countries there were no consequences if they didn’t. I’m sure this new requirement will motivate web teams to do more for accessibility, as they will actually be credited for their efforts.”
The agreed text of the Directive:
- covers websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies with a limited number of exceptions (e.g. broadcasters, livestreaming).
- refers to the standards to make websites and mobile apps more accessible. For example, such standards foresee that there should be a text for images or that websites can be browsed without a mouse which can be difficult to use for some people with disabilities.
- requires regular monitoring and reporting of public sector websites and mobile apps by Member States. These reports have to be communicated to the Commission and to be made public. The Directive on web accessibility along with the European Accessibility Act proposed in December 2015 (press release) which covers a much wider number of products and services, are both part of the efforts of the Commission to help people with disabilities to participate fully in society.
Following the political agreement (in ‘trilogue’, between negotiators of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission), the text will have to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council. After that it will be published in the Official Journal and will officially enter into force. Member States will have 21 months to transpose the text into their national legislation.
In December 2012, the European Commission presented a proposal for a Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites (press release).
Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities obliges Member States and the EU to take appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on equal basis with others, to inter alia information and communication technologies, including the internet.
The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 builds on the UN Convention and contains actions in several priority areas, including web accessibility, with the objective “to ensure accessibility to goods and services including public services and assistive devices for people with disabilities.”
The Commission is strongly committed to ensuring the accessibility of its websites and of its mobile apps and has adopted high international standards as objectives to attain for them. These are reflected in the Information Providers Guide, the Commission’s guidelines for internet publication. The Commission also continues to invest in raising awareness and training web managers on web accessibility.
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