We’ve already covered the different efforts that the European Commission—the executive body of the EU, responsible for proposing legislation—is implementing to improve web accessibility within the EU in an earlier blog post. Although admirable in theory, no concrete framework had been established to govern web accessibility across the 28 member state countries.
Until recently, that is.
On May 3, 2016, an agreement was reached between the European Parliament, Council, and Commission on a new directive for web accessibility. Although still being finalized, a draft directive requires member states to ensure that their state-run websites and mobile applications are accessible to individuals with disabilities. According to the Commission, there are roughly 80 million people in the EU affected by disability, and the figure is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020 as the population ages.
The directive lays out minimum requirements for accessible content (such as offering descriptions of non-text content for the visually impaired), but also offers the opportunity for member states to apply additional requirements as they see fit.
When will this go into effect
The directive will go into effect 20 days after it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJ). Once published in the OJ, member states will have 21 months to adopt national legislation to comply with the new directive. New websites (i.e. created after the directive goes into effect) will have to be compliant within one year. Older websites have a deadline of 2 years to become compliant, while mobile apps have 33 months.
Andrus Ansip, vice president of the Digital Single Market, a division of the European Commission that aims to open digital opportunities for people and businesses in the digital economy, has put it like this: “Internet access should be a reality for everyone. Leaving millions of Europeans behind is not an option.”
The EU is certainly taking steps in the right direction towards web accessibility. But while it’s easy to be optimistic, only time will tell how each member state will adapt to the new requirements.