EU Directive Calls for Web and Mobile App Accessibility

May 24, 2016 |
EU Directive Calls for Web and Mobile Accessibility

The Internet has transformed our world, yet for many living with disabilities, there are barriers to entry. These barriers are not centered on physical barriers – doorways, room size, or accessibility ramps – but instead on how people living with disabilities can access employment opportunities, education, healthcare to name just a few examples.

In the EU alone, around 80 million people are affected by a disability. As the EU population ages, the figure is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020. Unfortunately, for those people today, not all of the services they need are accessible online.

Changes to Public Sector Web and Mobile Apps

A new EU-wide Directive has been agreed to make the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies more accessible, especially for the blind, the deaf and the hard of hearing just this month.

The agreed 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. For example, such standards foresee that there should be a text for images or that websites can be browsed 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. The Directive on web accessibility along with the European Accessibility Act (EAA) proposed covers a much wider number of products and services, are both part of the efforts of the Commission to help people with disabilities to participate fully in society.

The new Directive aims to ensure an inclusive digital society, unlocking the benefits of the Digital Single Market, for all European citizens. The expectations are that the new Directive will offer a common approach for web and mobile apps.

Attentive readers of this blog may recall that EU Parliament passed similar legislation back in 2014. This latest directive from the European Commission is another step in the same direction and reflects the back-and-forth nature of legislation in the EU. This latest step is further developed and reflects a greater much degree of alignment between the Commission, Parliament, and Council.

In terms of standards, the handwriting is clearly on the wall that WCAG 2.0 AA will be the de facto standard.  First, a number of EU Member States currently require WCAG 2.0 AA for public sector websites.  Second, there simply isn’t any other practical web accessibility standards to compete with WCAG 2.0 AA.  The same is true for mobile apps—although I believe that European governments will opt for the EN 301-549, which a good friend described as “WCAG 2.0 AA wearing a funny hat” as it maps each of the WCAG 2.0 AA standards to different technologies (including mobile apps) in a very practical way. Finally, as member states prepare for a separate, but related initiative to implement the 2014 EU Procurement Directive, they will again likely turn to EN 301-549—and hence back to WCAG 2.0 AA.

Steps to Becoming More Accessible

As predicted, this Directive is further proof that accessibility matters in Europe. As public sector organizations adopt this Directive and while we wait for the progression of the EAA, it’s important that all businesses, public sector or not, operating in Europe start adopting accessibility as best practice for web and mobile.

But for many, it’s tough to know where to start. We recommend four steps to tackle Web accessibility:

  1. Benchmark Your Web Content. Audit your current sites to benchmark their level of accessibility, and assess where improvements need to be made. This will also help you track progress against goals down the road.
  2. Make Corrections and Refine Training. The benchmark review will help guide you in understanding what types of Web accessibility problems occur on your site(s) and where so that you can make the appropriate fixes. You will also need to train content authors on the basics of creating accessible content. Know that with global teams of contributors, it will be difficult for every person to be an expert on the current regulations in any given country. With so much outsourcing, you’ll want to first train all your content developers, but then look for help – see step three.
  3. Consider an Automated Solution. Regular reviews using an automated accessibility testing solution, together with manual reviews where required, will help audit content and give you clear metrics of your success. Look for solutions that can test content during the development life cycle to identify errors and provide guidance on fixes, to help content start and stay accessible.
  4. Consider Outsourcing. If you just do not have the staff resources to address accessibility, consider having a third party help you get started. There are companies that specialize in this work and can help you avoid a long, steep, and expensive learning curve.

For more information on each of these steps, download our whitepaper Guidance at a Glance: Web Accessibility: How to Kick Start or Improve Your Web Accessibility Program.

You can also learn more about Cryptzone’s Web accessibility solutions and consulting services.

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Ken Nakata

Ken Nakata, JD, CIPP/US is the one of the most well-known attorneys in the area of IT accessibility and is the Director of Cryptzone’s Accessibility Consulting Practice (ACP). Nakata’s work focuses on Web and software accessibility from both a legal and technical perspective. Nakata’s ACP team helps organizations manage the change towards accessibility in all aspects, providing consulting services aimed at shaping their accessibility policies and practices, and evaluating the overall state of their Web properties leveraging Cryptzone’s accessibility solutions. He is also a board member for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP),of which Cryptzone is a founding member.

Nakata worked for twelve years as a Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. He has argued on behalf of the United States government many times before the federal courts and has helped shape the government’s policies for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Nakata also worked as Director of Accessibility and Government Compliance at BayFirst Solutions, a Washington, DC consulting firm.

In 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno presented Nakata with the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Information Technology. In addition to practicing law, Nakata is active in software and web-based technologies, including Java, JavaScript, SQL, and ColdFusion. In July 2001, he was certified by Sun Microsystems as a programmer for the Java 2 Platform. Nakata is a frequent speaker on both law and technology and is equally adept at conducting one-on-one workshops with programmers and developers as well as explaining law and policy to large audiences. He holds a Bachelors of Art degree in mathematics from John Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is admitted to the bars of New York, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and Washington.

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