By EDRi

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Access to the so-called Digital Society through the Information and
Communication Technologies (ICTs) is increasingly gaining importance in
our everyday life. Access to the web, where these technologies usually
converge, is already a fundamental right that everyone should enjoy,
including persons with disabilities, who represent 15 % of the European
population. Today, ICTs and the web are the gateway to public services,
education, employment, leisure etc. Therefore, they are also a great
opportunity to combat isolation and social exclusion by ensuring the
participation of persons with disability in all aspects of digital life.

In the same way that architects must bear in mind accessibility
requirements when designing a building, web-developers have at their
disposal the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) of the
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which are the globally acknowledged
tool for making websites accessible to all. These guidelines became an
international standard last year (ISO/IEC 40500:2012), and will also be
included in the future European Standard which is in process under the
European Commission Mandate 376.

Why build an accessible website?

Besides the fact that it is not complex at all to make a website
accessible (see the 10 golden rules recommended by the Commission), web
accessibility also has other advantages: the overall usability and
users’ web experiences are improved for everyone; the maintenance costs
are reduced since the structure is consistent and therefore easier to
maintain over time; search engines can more accurately index the content
of accessible websites, as all content must be tagged properly in the
HTML structure of the website and, finally, accessible websites are more
easily used on tablets and smartphones, since the accessibility and
mobility requirements are very similar.

For years, the European disability movement has been raising awareness
of the importance of web accessibility. We have pointed out the need for
binding legislation to this regard, but in the past ten years
non-binding instruments have failed to deliver their promises (e.g. the
2006 Ministerial Declaration of Riga assuring the accessibility of all
public websites by 2010). Nowadays, less than one third of public
authorities’ websites are made accessible which also means that many
services provided online are out of reach for persons with disabilities.

What first steps have been made?

Through the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities (CRPD) in 2011, the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020,
and the Digital Agenda for Europe, the European Institutions re-edited
their commitment to address web accessibility (before 2015, according to
action 64 of the Digital Agenda). Finally, on 3 December 2012, the
European Commission issued a proposal for a Directive on accessibility
of public sector bodies’ websites (COM(2012)721 final).

The European disability movement welcomed the legislative proposal as a
first positive step towards the removal of all barriers to access the
web. However, despite the Commission’s will to develop this specific
measure, the scope of the proposal was clearly restrictive, since it
includes just twelve types of websites and web-based public services.
Such a narrow scope would not provide a systematic change within the web
for persons with disabilities.

Fortunately the European Parliament has listened to the users and has
understood that web accessibility is indispensable for persons with
disabilities. The EP rapporteur of this proposal, MEP Jorgo
Chatzimarkakis (IMCO Committee), and the majority of the shadow
rapporteurs agree on the necessity of widening the scope to include all
public sector bodies’ websites, as well as those services of general
interest which are usually provided by other entities such as public
transport, health related services, banking services or utility services
(gas, water, electricity…).

The period for tabling amendments is over and after the summer break the
IMCO committee will need to reach consensus on other relevant issues
regarding this Directive. We believe that without an effective
enforcement mechanism and an efficient monitoring system, involving
persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, this
proposal for a Directive will not be able to ensure the accessibility of
the websites concerned. This proposal will be a test of the real
commitment of the European Institutions to ensure web accessibility for
persons with disabilities, so that no one is left behind and no digital
rights are undermined. As citizens and Internet users, we must join
forces to push for equal rights and the same opportunities to “access” them.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG/

ISO/IEC 40500:2012
http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc
/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=58625

Mandate 376
http://www.mandate376.eu/

European Commission’s 10 Golden Rules
http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/standards/accessibility/10_rules/

Web accessibility advantages
http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/

2006 Riga Ministerial Declaration
http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/events/ict_riga_2006/doc/declaration_riga.pdf

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150

European Disability Strategy 2010-2020
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52010DC0636:en:NOT

Action 64 of the digital agenda
http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/pillar-vi-enhancing-digital-literacy-skills-and-inclusion/action-64-ensure-accessibility-public

Proposal for a Directive on accessibility of public sector bodies’
websites (COM(2012)721 final)
http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/news/proposal-directive-european-parliament-and-council-
accessibility-public-sector-bodies-websites

The European Disability Forum (EDF) is an independent NGO that
represents the interests of 80 million Europeans with disabilities. EDF
is the only European platform run by persons with disabilities. EDF is
the voice of persons with disabilities in Europe. More information at
http://www.edf-feph.org

(Contribution by the The European Disability Forum)