The European Parliament approved on the 26th October 2016 the Web Accessibility Directive which will introduce minimum accessibility standards for the websites and mobile apps of public bodies. However, the objective of the directive is not limited simply to ensuring technical standards of websites, but rather the promotion of social inclusion and overcoming the ICT gap.

Rationale

In the context of an increasingly digital society where organisations rely on the internet to provide services online, establishing minimum accessibility standards has become a priority. The EU is committed to removing barriers to social inclusion through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the European Disability Strategy and the Digital Agenda for Europe. Improving accessibility to online services is seen as a key step for overcoming social exclusion for older people and persons with disabilities according to AGE platform Europe, the European Blind Union and the European Disability Forum.

ESN’s Working Group on Ageing and Care explored the potential for technology to alleviate social exclusion and isolation at the local level. Making technology easier to use and understand was identified as a fundamental part of participating in society and accessing services.

What the Directive will entail

The accessibility requirements will dictate that websites and apps should be easy to understand, navigate and be accessible for a wide variety of people. This includes for example, providing non-textual content for persons with visual limitations and subtitles for audio content for those with hearing problems.

The directive also states that a feedback mechanism should be available so service users can communicate if and when they encounter problems. In addition to this, a monitoring and evaluation system is required of Member States to check the compliance of public bodies with the new regulations.

The Future

Once the directive is published in the EU Official Journal, member states will have to transpose it into their national laws within 21 months. Dita Charanzová, Parliament’s rapporteur on the directive, has stated that she hopes the directive will be a precursor for wider implementation of accessibility requirements in the form of the European Accessibility Act which has been proposed by the European Commission.

The Web Accessibility Directive is an important step towards eliminating the social exclusion of persons with disabilities and older people. Although, making online services more accessible is only part of the process. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has highlighted the need for training in e-skills in order to guarantee lifelong web accessibility. Findings from ESN’s final Working Group on Aging and Care re-iterates this, with one Belgian practice in particular highlighting the success of e-skills training.