Public-Sector Web Accessibility

Using online government services to find work, register a car or submit a tax declaration will be made easier for all, says the Commission, under a new proposed Commission Directive.

Submitted on the International Day of People with Disability, the proposal would impose mandatory standardised accessibility features for essential online government services.

The main beneficiaries of this are seen as Europe's 80 million citizens with disabilities and the 87 million Europeans aged over 65. For example, visually impaired people would hear descriptions of images when using a screen reader, while the hearing-impaired would see written captions for audio files.

The proposals would in effect align national rules on accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Context

This proposal is part of EU action for persons with disabilities, which sets out to prevent discrimination.

It would also help to unlock a European web accessibility market worth an estimated €2 billion, a market which is currently reaching only 10% of its potential. Only one third of Europe's 761,000 public sector and government websites are fully accessible, says the Commission.

The proposal

Subject matter and scope

The proposal outlines rules for Member States regarding the accessibility of the content of public sector websites. These websites must be accessible to all users, and must not ignore the needs of disabled persons.

The list of public body websites concerned is contained in the Annex to this proposal. The proposal covers website-based online services provided by public sector bodies including, for example: 
• Income taxes 
• Job services by labour offices
• Social security benefits
• Civil, personal, residence registration and health services 
• Building permissions 
• Police declarations
• Public libraries
• Enrolment in higher education
Member states may extend this list. They can also choose the national authority responsible for verifying compliance with this Directive.

Definitions

The proposal defines the website content, which means information communicated to users through a user agent. The term ‘user agent’ constitutes software that presents the website content to users via web browsers, media players, plug-ins and other programmes for user interface.

The proposal also defines the necessary standards (harmonised, European and International) which are required for web-accessibility. These are based on Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on European Standardisation.

The term ‘public sector body’ is defined according to Directive 2004/18/EC as having a specific purpose of general interest; not having industrial or commercial character; having a legal personality; and financed by the state, regional or local authorities.

Requirements for web-accessibility

The web-accessibility is governed by two requirements: 
• User orientation 
• Market orientation and interoperability

Measures implementing these requirements need to be in place by 31 December 2015 at the latest, says the Commission.

Harmonised standards and presumption of conformity

The proposal builds on Regulation (EU) No 1025/2012 on European Standardisation. Harmonised standards published in accordance with this Regulation are considered fulfilling the necessary web-accessibility requirements. The concerned websites adhering to these standards are thus in compliance with them.

Presumption of conformity with European and International standards

If the harmonised standards (see above) haven’t yet been published, adherence to European standards is considered in compliance with web-accessibility requirements.

In case these European standards haven’t been yet determined, the web-accessibility requirements should follow the ISO/IEC 40500:2012 Success Criteria and Conformance Requirements for Level AA conformance.

Additional measures

Member States should also promote the compliance of concerned websites with this proposal to the public. They should also promote the application of this proposal to all public sector bodies’ websites.

The proposal also calls on Member States to support mechanisms for stakeholder consultation on web-accessibility. Resulting developments, as well as experiences and findings from implementation of web-accessibility requirements should be made public.

Monitoring and reporting

Member states should continuously monitor compliance of concerned websites with the requirements set out in this proposal. The outcome of this monitoring (including the measurement data and the list of concerned websites) should be reported on annual basis.

The methodology for monitoring the conformity with web-accessibility requirements shall include:
• Periodicity of the monitoring and sampling of the websites concerned
• The description of how compliance is to be evaluated by referencing the harmonised, European or International standards respectively

The methodology and reporting arrangements should be established by Commission Implementing acts in accordance with examination and advisory procedures respectively. These acts are to be published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ).

Exercise of delegation

The Commission is empowered to adopt delegated acts to further specify the requirements, and the European standards for web-accessibility. This conferral is valid without time limitations from the date of entry into force of this Directive.

The delegation of power may be revoked by the Decision of the European Parliament or by the Council. The Decision takes effect the day following its publication in the Official Journal (OJ) or as specified in the Decision.

Upon adoption of a delegated act, the Commission notifies the European Parliament and the Council simultaneously. Unless they object to the act in question in two months period or upon notifying the Commission of their intention not to object before expiry of that period, the act is adopted.

The Commission would also be assisted by a committee as set out in Regulation (EU) No 182/2011 on rules and principles of the Commission’s exercise of implementing powers.

Next steps

The proposal is addressed to all Member States, which are obliged to transpose this Directive by 30 June 2014 at the latest. They should communicate to the Commission their national legal texts transposing this proposal. Those texts should also include a reference to this Directive.

The Commission will facilitate an EU-level industry and civil society stakeholder cooperation with Member States to review market and technological developments and progress, and to exchange best practices.

The proposed Directive now goes to the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for adoption. It will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication in the OJ. A review of this Directive will also be conducted within three years from its entry into force.