EU Directive Calls for Web and Mobile App 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.