The websites and apps of public administrations, hospitals, courts and other public sector bodies will have to be made accessible to everyone, under new EU-wide rules approved by the European Parliament on Wednesday. The web accessibility directive, already agreed by Parliament and Council, should make it easier for disabled and elderly people to access data and services on the internet, e.g. to file a tax declaration, apply for an allowance, pay fees or enrol at university.
“Today, we have ensured that e-government is accessible to everyone. Just as physical government buildings should be accessible, so too should the digital gateways. We solved the public side of web accessibility, but the internet is far more than government websites and apps. We need reform also for the private world of services, from banks to television stations to private hospitals. I hope that we can soon adopt the European Accessibility Act, so that both public and private services are accessible to all our citizens”, said Parliament’s rapporteur Dita Charanzová (ALDE, CZ).
Under the new rules, the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies - from administrations, courts and police departments to public hospitals, universities and libraries - will have to meet common accessibility standards. MEPs ensured that apps used on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, must also comply with these rules.
Public sector bodies will have to provide and regularly update a “detailed, comprehensive and clear accessibility statement” on the compliance of their websites and apps with the directive, including an explanation for those parts of the content that are not accessible, and the reasons for that inaccessibility. A “feedback mechanism” will have to be put in place to enable users to report compliance issues and to request specific information if content is inaccessible.
On-demand access to certain types of content
Some types of content are excluded from the scope of the directive, but only if they are not needed for administrative processes, such as office file formats, pre-recorded time-based media or the content of archived websites. MEPs ensured that public sector bodies will have to make this excluded content accessible to any person upon request (on-demand access).
Public sector bodies will have to give an “adequate response to the notification or request within a reasonable period of time”, and provide a link to an “enforcement procedure” for use in the event of an unsatisfactory response to the feedback or on-demand request. Member states will have to designate an authority tasked with monitoring and enforcing these rules.
Around 80 million people in the EU have a disability. As the EU’s population ages, the number of people with disabilities or age-related internet access difficulties is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020.
Once the directive is published in the EU Official Journal, member states will have to transpose it into their national laws within 21 months of its date of its entry into force. They then have 12 months to apply the provisions to new websites, 24 months to apply them to existing websites and 33 months to apply them to public sector bodies’ mobile applications.
Procedure: Co-decision, second reading agreement
This directive lays down the first EU-wide rules to ensure that the websites and apps of public sector bodies are made more accessible to users, in particular persons with disabilities. •
Several EU member states have adopted measures based on internationally used guidelines for the design of accessible websites, but their national laws and measures nonetheless differ substantially.