Information is at the heart of political participation, as it allows citizens to be aware of the actions and priorities of public authorities as well as those holding or running for elected office. With much public information now provided on the internet, it is particularly important that web-based information be accessible for persons with disabilities. One step towards achieving this can be statutory accessibility standards for websites that provide public information.
Article 9 (1) of the CRPD specifically requires state parties to take measures to ensure the accessibility of “information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems”. Promoting e-accessibility is also at the heart of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015 and the Digital Agenda, which set a target of full accessibility for public sector websites by 2015. In 2012, the European Commission published a proposal for a Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites which would set a European standard for web-accessibility.
This indicator measures whether public and private providers of internet and web-based information in the EU Member States are obliged by law to ensure that the information they publish is subject to accessibility standards, in particular the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA standards. These standards are published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organisation for the internet, and aim to make web-based content accessible to people with disabilities.
Are there legal accessibility standards for public and private providers of internet and web-based public information in EU Member States?
Source: FRA, 2014
Sixteen EU Member States have no legal accessibility standards in place for providers of internet and web-based public, the analysis shows. Only four Member States, Austria, Belgium, Malta and Spain, have statutory accessibility requirements for both public and private providers, set out in laws on electronic communication and/or equal treatment of persons with disabilities. In Belgium, for example, the Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications – a regulatory and competition authority in the telecoms sector – can require from telecommunication providers that end-users with disabilities have access to services adapted to their disability and have the same choice of telecommunication providers as other users.
In eight Member States, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden, website accessibility standards only apply to public providers. For example, in Germany federal authorities are obliged to design their websites so that (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards are met. In the Czech Republic there is a similar regulation concerning information on websites of government offices.
In several of the Member States where FRA’s analysis found no legal accessibility requirements for providers of web-based information, there are some non-binding recommendations. The Danish parliament, for example, issued a resolution stating that the government should ensure that the public’s use of information technology complies with open standards, among others WCAG 2.0. Similarly, the Advisory Committee on Information Management in Public Administration in Finland issued recommendations for web services in public administration which provide for a minimum accessibility standard of WCAG 2.0 A level to be met.