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A cautious welcome as Europe looks to lock-in web accessibility

A provisional agreement to make public sector websites and mobile apps across Europe more accessible has been reached, creating mixed reactions from the accessibility community.

The deal between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission was made earlier this month, and relates to the existing ‘Directive on Web Accessibility for Public Sector Websites’, which has been the subject of debate since its introduction in 2012 (See e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage at the following link: http://eab.li/b ).

If formalised, the directive would demand that both new and existing public sector sites and apps be more accessible to citizens with disabilities across the European Union (EU). Older public sector content would also be made accessible when requested by citizens.

Carine Marzin, Chair of the European Blind Union (EBU) Campaigns Network, told e-Access Bulletin that the EBU welcomed this “significant milestone” based on the information publicly available, but warned that the final text of the directive is still to be released.

Marzin said that the EBU is also encouraged at the inclusion of mobile apps in the initial agreement – an issue it has been campaigning for. Another EU campaign focused on eliminating proposed exceptions to the directive, which would have meant that public sector intranet services and other content formats would have been excluded from accessibility regulations. Marzin said that “significant progress” appeared to have been made on some of these exceptions, again based on available information. Such intranet services are “very important for all disabled people in terms of access to education and jobs,” she said.

However, there is still some way to go before any enforceable web accessibility regulations appear. The agreement needs to be formally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament, and then formed into legislation across all EU countries. In practice, it could be several years before the proposed new accessibility rules are applicable; legislation would first be created for new websites, followed by remaining public sector sites, and mobile apps after that.

Technology access charity AbilityNet also welcomed the initial agreement, but called for the measures to go further than just regulating public sector content. Writing on the charity’s website, CEO Nigel Lewis said: “AbilityNet wholeheartedly welcomes this recent move … but it doesn’t go far enough … Policy makers are missing a trick by not including websites and apps in the private and third sectors. Their sheer volume vastly outweighs public sector websites and in our experience, they lag behind the public sector in accessibility terms.”

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