On 3 May 2016, the Netherlands presidency reached an informal deal with the European Parliament on a new directive to make public sector websites and mobile applications more accessible, especially for people with disabilities.
What websites, apps and content will be covered?
The draft directive requires member states to ensure that public sector websites and mobile applications meet European accessibility standards.
The rules will include, for example, guidelines on providing descriptions of non-textual content for persons with visual limitations, or on creating content that can be better presented across a range of devices. These requirements will make content more accessible and usable to a wider public, and will especially benefit people with various types of disabilities.
The new rules will apply both to websites and mobile applications (apps) of public sector bodies.
These include state, regional and local authorities, and bodies and associations serving the general interest that are governed by public law, such as an association of adjacent municipalities which organises joint waste management.
The directive sets out minimum conditions, allowing member states to apply additional requirements to public sector websites and apps. They may also apply the requirements set out in this directive and/or additional ones to the websites and apps of other types of organisations.
Under the Netherlands presidency, the scope of the directive has been extended to mobile applications, which are more popular than websites. The directive also covers extranets and intranets that are published after the new rules come into force and older ones that undergo substantial revision, allowing employees and students to access information that is essential in their daily lives.
In order to strike a balance between accessibility and an undue burden on public sector bodies, the directive excludes certain types of content, such as third party content (e.g. user-generated content in a twitter feed) and heritage collections held by libraries and museums. Live audio-visual media is likewise excluded, but if it is kept online after the live broadcast, it has to be made accessible.
Moreover, the directive enables individuals to request specific information on demand if the content is inaccessible.
This falls within a specially designed feedback system, which includes the obligation for public sector bodies to provide information on their compliance with the requirements. This accessibility statement must also include a link to a feedback mechanism, so that it is easy for any user to report compliance issues. When will the rules enter into force?
The directive will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal.
After this, member states will have 21 months to adopt national legislation to comply with it. They must start applying the new rules to new websites (websites published after the 'transposition' date) one year later. For older websites the deadline is two years and for mobile apps 33 months after the transposition date. Greater choice and reduced prices for accessibility products across the EU
A harmonised set of rules is expected to boost the market for accessibility-related products and services in the EU.
It will reduce the costs of developing such products and marketing them in different EU countries. This will benefit a wide range of economic operators from website and app-developers to software tool producers and training providers. Suppliers of web accessibility include a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, which are essential in contributing to growth and competitiveness.
As more automated and innovative accessibility tools are expected to emerge on the market, increasing accessibility will become easier and less costly. This is particularly important for the public sector, so that it can provide its online services to all citizens.
Accessible digital products and services will make it easier for all, including people with disabilities or age-related limitations, to participate in (digital) society.
The presidency will submit the outcome of the negotiations for approval by member states at a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee in the next couple of weeks.