European Union legislates for web accessibility

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 14:48pm

The European Parliament has passed a law to improve the accessibility of information on government websites in European Union member countries. This will give millions of people enhanced access to vital information and services.

he draft law — which was approved by 593 votes to 40, with 13 abstentions — requires all European Union (EU) member countries to ensure that all websites managed by public sector bodies are fully accessible to elderly people and those with a disability.

According to a statement by the European Parliament, the draft law may also be applied to private businesses which provide public services such as utilities, transport, childcare and health.

If the law is adopted by EU member countries it is expected that new website content will become accessible within one year. Countries will be given three years to make all existing website content accessible, and five years in total for “live audio content” to be accessible.

According to the Parliament’s record of adopted texts (Word document download), website accessibility would be defined as meeting level AA conformance of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Websites covered by the new law would also need to include a clear and concise statement on their level of accessibility.

According to the EU’s Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies' websites, many political initiatives at European level relate to web-accessibility, including: the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (ICT accessibility); the eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015 (inclusive and accessible eGovernment services); the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’ (Commission proposes to ensure fully-accessible public sector websites by 2015). The guiding principles for greater web accessibility are considered to be contained the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

According to the EU Parliament, only one third of the 761,000 EU public sector websites meet basic web accessibility standards. In its estimation, more than 167 million EU citizens have difficulty in accessing public websites to use online public services.

EU countries have been working toward greater web accessibility for the last 10 years, but according to the latest report on web accessibility in the EU, the Monitoring eAccessibility in Europe 2011 Annual Report [Docx 4 MB] the overall level of accessibility remains low.

“According to data collected in 2010 and 2011, people with disabilities in Europe still face many barriers in their everyday usage of ICT products and services,” the report reads. “The evolution in the EU countries between 2010 and 2011 was positive, but slow, in eAccessibility achievements.

“While many EU Member States have adopted measures to ensure provision of Assistive Technologies, data reveal how the lack of eAccessibility in technology domains such as public websites, digital television, public terminals and telephone access to emergency services and telecare [remote care of elderly and physically less able people] systems persists in many European countries.”

Australian governments have their own accessibility policy, which states that government agencies must move towards the adoption of WCAG 2.0 for all websites. 

This article was adapted from one published by our web accessibility service Access iQ.


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