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Public Sector EU Websites Must Now Be Accessible

Author: European Disability Forum (EDF)(i) : Contact: edf-feph.org

Published: 2020-09-25 : (Rev. 2020-09-27)

Synopsis and Key Points:

All European public-sector bodies now legally obliged to have accessible websites for all members of the public including persons with disabilities.

We have come a long way for web accessibility and persons with disabilities have campaigned tirelessly to achieve strong legislation, clear standards and better technology.

Focusing on compliance with the law is only a first step, and public bodies should go beyond to make more inclusive online services through their websites and mobile apps.

Main Digest

As of 23 September 2020, all European public-sector bodies are legally obliged to have websites that are accessible for all members of the public, including persons with disabilities. EDF launches a survey to measure if this has happened.

The Web Accessibility Directive, which was adopted in 2016, sets 23 September 2020 as the date by which all public-sector websites across the EU must be accessible for persons with disabilities.

To celebrate this important day for digital accessibility and participation in the EU, we co-hosted an online discussion on the Web Accessibility Directive with Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology of the European Commission. Key stakeholders highlighted the achievements and remaining challenges in terms of practical implementation of web accessibility from different perspectives, including policy makers, national governments, activists, academia, accessibility professionals, and of course persons with disabilities.

During the event, we launched a survey (surveymonkey.com/r/BMRJHN6) among members of the disability community in Europe to ask about their experience in accessing public sector websites. This survey is available in English, French and Spanish. This survey aims to determine the real impact of EU law on the lived experiences of persons with disabilities when accessing online public services. It also questions about the usefulness of the accessibility statements to be placed in all public-sector websites, as well as the feedback and enforcement mechanisms set out in the Directive.

In the event, Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, opened the discussion noting that;

"Websites of public sector bodies must be accessible, thanks to the Web Accessibility Directive. This will change the lives of millions of persons with disabilities and open up new opportunities for them. Collectively we can break the digital divide and go for a Union of equality".

Dita Charanzová, Vice President of European Parliament and Rapporteur for the Web Accessibility Directive reminded that the original proposal included only 12 online services. "I've learned in this file to never give up a fight that is worth fighting", she said and promised to remain an ally for persons with disabilities in the European Parliament.

Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disabilities Forum welcomed everyone and noted that;

"We have come a long way for web accessibility and persons with disabilities have campaigned tirelessly to achieve strong legislation, clear standards and better technology. But this is only one step in the long path towards achieving equal access and rights for all EU citizens. We continue to work hard, so that EU policy finally ensures full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the European Union and all Member States properly apply all EU laws on accessibility and equal rights."

In his keynote speech, web accessibility expert Bart Simons stressed that focusing on compliance with the law is only a first step, and that public bodies should go beyond to make more inclusive online services through their websites and mobile apps.

Clipart image of a laptop surrounded by online tool and electronic devices symbols and icons.
Clipart image of a laptop surrounded by online tool and electronic devices symbols and icons.

Two panel discussions explored the achievements and remaining challenges in relation to the Web Accessibility Directive, and practical application and solutions for ensuring its requirements.

In the second panel Armony Altinier, researcher, Founder and CEO of "Koena", discussed what needs to be done for practical change. She noted lack of digital accessibility awareness and training as remaining issues in France.

The discussion was closed by a video address from Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market, who highlighted the key role of digital accessibility and the Web Directive as a game-changer for overall accessibility, and forecasted expertise in digital accessibility as a critical competitive edge for ICT professionals in the internal market. The recording of the event will be available on EDF website.

Previous Information:

(i)Source/Reference: European Disability Forum (EDF). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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