On October 26th, the European Parliament approved a new directive to ensure that public sector websites—among them websites for hospitals, courts, universities, administrations, and libraries—meet common web accessibility standards. Mobile applications run by public sector bodies must also be accessible to individuals using smartphones or tablets.
Under the new directive, public sector entities will be required to publish and regularly update an accessibility statement on their website. The accessibility statement must describe the site’s level of compliance, as well explain why certain parts of a site may be inaccessible. A mechanism must also be put in place to allow users to report accessibility compliance issues, as well as to request specific information if content is inaccessible.
Details regarding what will constitute “common web accessibility standards” have not been released yet. However, governments that have already implemented web accessibility legislation currently rely on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the basis of their standards.
The directive will go into effect once it is published in the EU Official Journal. Once published, member states will have 21 months to add the new directive to their national laws. Member states will then have 12 months to apply the provisions to new websites, 2 years to add them to existing sites, and nearly 3 years to apply them to public sector bodies’ mobile applications.
Regarding the new directive, the EU Parliament’s rapporteur Dita Charanzova stated:
Today, we have ensured that e-government is accessible to everyone…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.
On December 2, 2015, the European Commission proposed a European Accessibility Act. The Act would set common accessibility requirements to make it easier for companies to provide accessible products and services to disabled individuals. Currently, stakeholders are providing feedback on the details of the Act before it must go through the regular legislative procedure involving the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.