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EC Proposes Law To Address ‘Fragmented’ Accessibility Rules

A ‘European Disability Act’ has been proposed by the European Commission to standardise guidelines on web accessibility for disabled people.

In a speech in Brussels earlier this month, Viviane Reding – commissioner for information society and media – said approaches need to be harmonised throughout Europe. “We cannot achieve the single market by leaving aside certain parts of our population”, said Reding. “I am talking about e-accessibility: 15% of our population is disabled, and our rules on accessibility are still fragmented.”

Reding also urged Europe-wide adoption of the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium standards body (WCAG: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/ ), saying a new disability law is the most effective way of achieving this. “We should do it together and in step so that … users get a decent and reliable framework. I believe the way we should do this is to develop together with stakeholders a European Disability Act”, she said.

In her speech – entitled ‘The Digital Single Market: a key to unlock the potential of the knowledge based economy’ (
http://bit.ly/A6JHv )
– Reding said the current fragmentation of accessibility laws is leading to EU member states approaching the subject from different directions, damaging the effectiveness of current legislation: “We have to consider that this is costly for industry because they have to respond to a wide range of fragmented national standards. It also leaves disabled people without a consistent level of service that they can expect”, she said.

Currently, the UK Disability Discrimination Act requires UK websites to be accessible for those with disabilities, including visual and hearing impairments, though there are no specific guidelines in the act itself as to what this constitutes.

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