Making the EU’s websites accessible for allby Ivano Abbadessa - 2013.12.05
The EU directive that requires all public administration websites to be 100% accessible is in its final stages, although it's impossible to know if and exactly when it will be approved. However, it would have been symbolically fitting to celebrate the initiative not just with words this week, seeing as the 3 December was International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
But the EU is notoriously an entity where wishful thinking prevails. The transition from theory to practice is slow and cumbersome. We asked Spanish MEP Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, who has spearheaded the initiative, for further clarification. She told West: “This directive will enable the 80 million Europeans with disabilities to use online public services to find employment, register their car, send in a tax return and apply for a passport or driving licence, as well as many other things.” This would be a real revolution, seeing as just 10% of webpages in the 28 EU member states can currently be accessed by people with disabilities. Of more than 761,000 public official websites, just one-third meet international accessibility standards.
“It's difficult to give a definite date for adoption of the directive,” continues Estaràs. “Many interests are at stake and there are many people involved in the process. In any case, we want the approval within this parliamentary term, ie, in the next few months.” The EU is pushing for all new public websites to meet the directive's criteria as of 2015, while existing sites will have until early 2017 to adapt.
“In December 2012, the Commission submitted a draft directive to Parliament,” explains Estaràs. “We are working on opinions and amendments on that text.” The EU deputies want the EU member states to guarantee the accessibility of all public administration websites – not just those that fall within the 12 areas contained in the Commission's proposal (such as social security, personal documents or enrolment in education). MEPs believe the new rules should also apply to websites run by private entities who perform a public function, such as gas, electricity and water suppliers, as well as transport, childcare or health services.
Estaràs confirms that “the greatest challenge will be ensuring a harmonised approach across all member states. The Commission will therefore need a monitoring methodology, so that EU countries can give an annual report of the steps they have taken to achieve the directive's requirements.” But another factor is also fundamental, she adds: “It's important that at this stage we also get the involvement of disability organisations, so that the end-users of the services can provide personal feedback on the proposed measures.”
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