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European Commission Wants Single Set Of Website Accessibility Rules To Apply To Government Sites By 2015

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The European Commission has proposed new rules to improve public-sector website accessibility for disabled people, describing the current situation as “dire” — with only one-third of Europe’s 761,000 public-sector and government websites described as fully accessible. The proposed Directive on the accessibility of public-sector bodies’ websites would introduce “mandatory EU standardised accessibility features” from the end of 2015 — covering 12 types of websites (see list below) but with governments encouraged to apply the features to all their digital services.

Examples of accessibility features include audio descriptions of images for visually impaired people, and written captions for audio files for hearing-impaired users. There are clear benefits beyond the obvious one of raising accessibility rates for Europe’s 80 million citizens with disabilities, and the 87 million Europeans aged over 65. The EC notes that a single set of accessibility rules would mean developers could offer products and services across the entire European Union “without extra adaptation costs and complications.”

Part of the reason for low levels of web accessibility to date is a lack of clarity around the meaning of the term, according to the EC, so it also wants the proposed directive to establish rules covering technical specs, methodology for assessment, reporting and bottom-up testing.

It notes that a European standard that includes web accessibility based on internationally recognised and technology-neutral guidelines is under development within the “European Commission Mandate 376” — and could be available as early as 2014. This is based on the Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements Level AA in version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Here’s the full list of websites that will fall under the proposed EU Directive on accessibility

  • Income taxes: declaration, notification of assessment
  • Job search services by labour offices
  • Social security benefits: unemployment benefits, child allowances, medical costs (reimbursement or direct settlement), student grants
  • Personal documents: passports or driving licenses
  • Car registration
  • Application for building permission
  • Declaration to police, e.g. in case of theft
  • Public libraries, e.g. catalogues and search tools
  • Request and delivery of birth or marriage certificates
  • Enrollment in higher education or university
  • Notification of change of residence
  • Health-related services: interactive advice on the availability of services, online services for patients, appointments

The proposed Directive will go to the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption. After that European Union member states would have to put national rules and regulations in place by June 30, 2014. The EC notes that 21 Member States already have national laws or measures on web accessibility but describes progress as “slow”.