Because the Council of the European Union wants to take a step back and reduce the scope of web accessibility, 20 civil society networks, representing consumers, older people and people from a range of representative organisations of persons with disabilities, wrote an open letter to strongly oppose this move.
“As today we live in a digital world, access to digital information and services has become as important as access to the physical environment. ICT accessibility is a precondition for us, 80 million people with disabilities living in Europe, to participate in society on an equal basis with others. The EU must adopt a strong Web Directive in line with its commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Binding EU legislation will ensure that UN CRPD will be implemented coherently across the EU. We need a clear, future-proof Web Directive.” said Rodolfo Cattani, European Disability Forum Secretary.
In 2012 the European Commission released a proposal for a Web Directive on the accessibility of the public sector bodies’ websites to ensure that the 80 million persons with disabilities and the 150 million older people who live in Europe, have access to the online public services that are provided to other citizens of the EU.
Indeed, equal access to information and communication technologies is a human right enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). Therefore, it is crucial public money doesn’t funds inaccessible online content. Especially since websites are usually updated every few years, no website offering a public service should be left inaccessible.
While, in 2014, a huge majority of the European parliamentarians agreed to an even more ambitious Web Directive enclosing a wide range of services, the EU Council surprisingly proposed to significantly reduce its scope.
If it isn’t enough already that the proposal took more than 4 years to be discussed by the Council, today the plan is to exclude websites of public broadcasters, schools, kindergartens, universities, nurseries or NGOs. The EU Council also proposed to exclude some web content such as the live audiovisual, as well as intranets and extranets. However, these exemptions will clearly mean limited access and unfair treatment for many people, including older people and people with disabilities.
Everyone should be able to access websites of public or private entities, which deliver a public service such as postal services or transportation. Excluding intranets and extranets will prevent persons with disabilities from being able to work in organisations that rely on the use of these types of “private websites” in their everyday work.
Therfore, civil society networks reaffirm : ” It is not acceptable to adopt legislation that would potentially deny millions of citizens access to the digital world we live in today. It is not acceptable to legalise digital barriers to the right to work because of inaccessible employment web editors, intranets, extranets, etc. It is not acceptable to exclude millions of people from fully participating in society.”
Moreover, since online public services, such as paying taxes, accessing academic materials or buying a train ticket, are increasingly accessed through mobile devices and applications, the open letter advocates to ensure the Web Directive offers equal accessibility of both mobile web and mobile applications.
Finally, the open letter asks for effective enforcement bodies and dissuasive penalties: “For this legislation to make a difference and have meaningful impact, users need to have an effective right to redress. Robust enforcement should therefore include dedicated national enforcement bodies, as well as penalties that are effective, proportionate and dissuasive”.