Adoption of web accessibility directive: A first step towards digital inclusion

Our society is growing more and more digital. If this can bring very positive developments for older people, e.g. in the field of employment (work-life balance), health, mobility and independent living, it can also aggravate discrimination, social exclusion and poverty if the access to the new technologies is not guaranteed to all.

For instance, an increasing amount of essential public services information and documents are now only available online, which makes it urgent to ensure proper universal access to digital content.

A first important step has been made with the approval by the European Parliament on 26th October 2016 of the EU Directive on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies. The new rules establish a set of criteria and technical provisions to enable all users, including people with disabilities (in particular with vision or hearing impairments), to have access to online information and services provided by public sector bodies.

Read more on the European Commission website

This initiative is part of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 aimed to promote the active inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in society through actions in several priority areas, including web accessibility. The EU strategy builds on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that has been signed by the European Union. According to the UN Convention, persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

AGE Platform Europe welcomes the adoption of this directive, which rewards our campaign, started several years ago together with the European Blind Union (EBU), the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the European Organisation representing Consumers in Standardisation (ANEC), in favour of a binding legislation on web accessibility.

The directive is now covering not only website but also related mobile applications which makes it much more comprehensive: whatever the interface to access a service, it has to be accessible. Still, the directive is limited in terms of scope to services delivered by public bodies while today an important number of essential services are delivered by private bodies and/or are delegated by public authorities (e.g. energy supply, bank services). There are also exception to the directive, notably broadcasters and livestreaming.

The on-going European Accessibility Act, published by the European Commission in December 2015 should help to complement the web-accessibility directive and thus to broaden the scope of services covered.

‘Everyone should benefit from the opportunities offered by the internet and fully participate in the digital society’, say European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, responsible for the Digital Single Market, and Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger, in charge of the Digital Economy and Society in a press statement. Today’s adoption is an important step in the right direction. New rules will ensure that people with disabilities – especially blind, deaf and hard of hearing persons – can more easily access and use the websites and mobile applications of public services.’

Next to vision and hearing impairments, internet users can face barriers because of other types of functional or cognitive impairments, but also because of environmental, technological or financial limitations: low literacy, slow connection, device or browser incompatibility, high prices, device/application limited duration, etc.

Before reaching universal web accessibility a lot of work will still need to be done to cover the different aspects of the issue. But with the EU accessibility act and the web accessibility directive important milestones are being met.

Next steps:

  • The web accessibility directive will be published in the Official Journal and will officially enter into force on the 20th day following that of its publication. From that point, Member States will have 21 months to transpose the text into their national legislation.
  • The European Commission is preparing a mandate to develop a standard that will support the implementation of the directive. This work will be built upon the outcome of the work under the standardisation mandate 376, including the revision of the European Standard on ‘Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe’ (EN301 549).

For more information on AGE work on web accessibility, please contact Julia Wadoux,

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