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Europe agrees rules on website accessibility

European Parliament reaches provisional agreement on accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites and mobile apps

Many of us take the internet for granted – but if you have a disability, you soon discover that not every website is as accessible as it should be.

More than 167 million EU citizens have a disability or age-related condition which can prevent them accessing services and information on the internet. Routine tasks such as filing a tax return, applying for an allowance, paying fees or registering with a doctor can be impossible if you use non-standard browsers or input devices.

According to Dita Charanzová, the lead negotiator from Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, inaccessibility belongs in digital prehistory:

“We live in the digital age, where most of us can hardly imagine our lives without access to the Internet, whether online on a computer or via a smartphone. Yet even today, a number of EU citizens do not have this possibility – and I do not mean for entertainment, but rather to access information provided by public institutions. All citizens should be treated equally both offline and online. For me, this is a great victory. I think it is a disgrace that many persons with disabilities are, in the 21st century, still cut off from information on the Internet. Inaccessibility belongs in digital prehistory, not in today’s world.”

Mobile apps as well as websites covered

Apps designed and developed by or on behalf of public sector bodies, to be used on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets – are also included within the scope of the directive, thanks to MEPs’ efforts during the three-way talks (trilogues) with the Council and Commission.

Initially, just 12 categories of public bodies were proposed by the Commission, but Parliament and Council negotiators widened the scope of the directive to include all public sector bodies.

On-demand access to certain types of content

Certain types of old content will be excluded, but only if they are not needed for administrative procedures, such as office file formats, pre-recorded time-based media and archives. MEPs ensured that public sector bodies will have to make this excluded content accessible to any person “upon request” (on-demand access).

Essential administrative functions of schools, nursery and kindergartens’ websites should be made accessible, says the provisional deal.

Feedback mechanism in the event of failures of accessibility

Under this directive, public sector bodies will have to provide and keep up-to-date a “detailed, comprehensive and clear statement” about the compliance of their websites and apps. This will include an explanation of any parts of the content that are not accessible, and the reasons why. They will explain how people can request an accessible version of any non-accessible content, and provide a hyper-link to a “feedback mechanism” so that users can notify any failures of the website or app to comply with the requirements of this directive.

The public sector body concerned will have to give an “adequate reply on the feedback within a reasonable period of time”, and provide that person with a link to an “enforcement procedure”, to which recourse may be had in the event of an unsatisfactory response to the feedback or on-demand request.

Member states will have to designate an authority tasked with monitoring and enforcing these rules.

So far, the deal is only provisional

The provisional deal still needs to be confirmed by the Council Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) and by the European Parliament.

Once approved by the co-legislators and published in the EU Official Journal, member states would have 21 months to transpose the directive into national law.

Any new websites would then have to comply with the rules on accessibility within 12 months, while those already in existence have 24 months, and mobile apps 33 months, following the directives becoming law.