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Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies

Do we really need Web accessibility?

Accessibility has become necessary due to the rapid growth of online information and interactive services provided on the Web and by mobile applications. Just think of online banking and shopping, communicating with friends, etc. The lack or absence of accessibility contributes to the exclusion or partial exclusion of many people from society.

On the other hand, making websites and mobile apps more accessible results in a better user experience for all, not just for users with disabilities (e.g. listening to a text when lighting conditions are not optimal, or reading subtitles to a video when the sound is inaudible). Accessibility also benefits businesses with economic gains, as they can reach a larger customer base.

Adoption of the Directive

In recent years, the European Disability Forum (EDF), together with its members and partner organisations, has fought for accessibility of websites and for the adoption of a relevant directive to make this happen in Europe. The European Commission’s initial proposal for the Web Directive, published in 2012, included only 12 categories of online services and very soft enforcement measures. However, the co-operation with the Parliament and the Council led to the adoption of a truly future-proof and powerful Directive.

The Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications of Public Sector Bodies was approved by the European Parliament on 26 October 2016 and entered into force on 22 December 2016. Member States have until 23 September 2018 to transpose the text into their national legislation. The European Commission will adopt implementing acts by the end of 2018.

What does it mean to disabled people?

From now on, all websites and mobile applications (including the electronic documents and multimedia) of public authorities across the EU must be accessible to a wide range of users, including 80 million people with disabilities. The Directive is a crucial milestone towards an inclusive digital society, where everyone has access to online services and information on an equal basis. This is a right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), to which the EU is a party: article 9 requires that appropriate measures are taken to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on equal basis with others, to inter alia information and communication technologies, including the Internet.

The text of the Directive

  • covers websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies, with a limited number of exceptions (e.g. broadcasters, livestreaming);
  • refers to the standards to make websites and mobile apps more accessible (e.g. there should be texts describing images; it should be always possible to browse websites also without a mouse, which can be difficult to use for some people with disabilities);
  • requires regular monitoring and reporting of public sector websites and mobile apps by Member States. These reports have to be communicated to the Commission and to be made public.

What if websites/apps don't comply?

In case parts of the public website are not accessible, the website will have to explain why, in a mandatory accessibility statement. There will also be a mechanism for citizens to request the content they cannot access. However, as mentioned above, the Directive allows some exceptions, such as public broadcasters’ websites and live audiovisual streaming.

It is hoped that the gaps left in the Web Directive will be covered in other EU legislation in progress, such as the European Accessibility Act or the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.