European Union Sets in place new rules for online public services

European News

European News
THUNDER BAY – International News – Over 100 million European Union citizens will find it easier to use online public services to look for a job, register a car, submit a tax declaration and apply for a passport or driving license thanks to new rules proposed today by the European Commission on the International Day of People with Disability. The Commission’s proposal for a Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites would introduce mandatory EU standardised accessibility features, from the end of 2015, for 12 types of websites.

Mandatory accessibility would apply to essential government services like social security and health related services, job searches, university applications and issuing of personal documents and certificates (see annex for full list) The proposed new rules would also clarify what web accessibility means (technical specs, methodology for assessment, reporting, bottom up testing), and governments would be encouraged to apply the rules across all services, not only the mandatory list.

Key beneficiaries of today’s proposal would be Europe’s 80 million citizens with disabilities and the 87 million Europeans aged over 65. For example, visually impaired people will hear descriptions of images when using a screen reader, the hearing-impaired will see written captions for audio files and all parts of a website could be explored via ckeyboards as well as a computer mouse.

Upon implementation, today’s proposal would unlock a worth European web accessibility market an estimated €2 billion, a market which is currently reaching only 10% of its potential. Innovations triggered by the proposal will also improve the internet experience of all internet users through greater functionality and lower costs in providing that functionality.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: “These days virtually all of us depend on internet access to go about our daily lives in one way or another, and we all have the right to equal access to government services online. This proposal would make that right a reality, and not just an idea. It would create better market conditions, more jobs, and make it cheaper for governments to make their websites accessible.”

Ioannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum is joining the Commission in urging progress: “The European Disability Forum welcomes the proposals for legislation on the accessibility of public websites as it will contribute to ensuring citizenship rights and direct access of the 80 million citizens with disabilities to public services, and as a first step to the removal of all barriers to access internet products and services in the single market”

A single set of accessibility rules would mean developers could offer their products and services across the whole EU without extra adaptation costs and complications.

The proposed Directive now goes to the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption.

Member States would have to put national rules and regulations in place by 30 June 2014. 21 Member States already have national laws or measures on web accessibility but progress is slow.

With today’s proposal, the Commission has delivered on Action 64 of the Digital Agenda for Europe and on Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Background: The current situation for public sector web accessibility is dire. Only one third of Europe’s 761,000 public sector and government websites are fully accessible, despite the availability of technical solutions, some of which have been developed with EU research funding over the last 15 years.

Web-accessibility refers to principles and techniques to be followed when constructing websites so that online content is accessible to all users, in particular those with disabilities1. There are internationally recognised and technology-neutral guidelines in this field: 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). A European standard that includes web accessibility based on those guidelines is under development within the “European Commission Mandate 376” and could be available as early as 2014.

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