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How much longer before web accessibility?

31 July, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Barrierefreier Zugang zum Netz: Wie lange müssen wir noch warten?

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)

ISO/IEC 40500:2012 /catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=58625

Mandate 376

European Commission’s 10 Golden Rules

Web accessibility advantages

2006 Riga Ministerial Declaration

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

European Disability Strategy 2010-2020

Action 64 of the digital agenda

Proposal for a Directive on accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites (COM(2012)721 final) 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

(Contribution by the The European Disability Forum)



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