The Saint Lazarus Foundation joins the European Development Forum and Urges EU MEMBER STATES TO NOT ADOPT A MEANINGLESS WEB ACCESSIBILITY DIRECTIVE (June 2015)
Brussels, 11 June 2015 | In view of the EU Ministers meeting in the Telecoms Council this Friday, the European Disability Forum wants to stress once again the importance of one of the items for discussion: the proposal for a Directive on the accessibility of public sector bodies' websites. Having read the last progress report on this dossier issued by the Latvian Presidency, EDF deeply regrets the new approach taken by Member States as it could lead to the adoption of an EU legislation that would not bring any substantial change to the accessibility and inclusiveness of public websites for the 80 million Europeans with disabilities.
According to the current discussions in the Council, Member States are currently discussing the possibility of excluding from the scope of the Directive not only types of public websites and websites providing services of general interest, but also some kinds of content from them, such as -and most worrying- audio, video and non-web documents. This would result in some public websites being accessible superficially, but not the documents that people download to fill forms, get further information, etc. What is the point of this? That is why EDF urges the EU Ministers to clearly stand for a meaningful Directive, in line with the spirit and obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the position adopted by a huge majority in the European Parliament in February 2014.
In addition to the delay in reaching a common position among Member States with regard to this proposal (presented by the Commission in December 2012), EDF would also like to draw the Ministers' attention to two more key elements that should be reconsidered. Firstly, in order to succeed, this Directive needs a strong enforcement mechanism appointing a body at national level responsible for its implementation, monitoring, reporting and involvement of relevant stakeholders and users, and therefore with the necessary human and financial resources. Secondly, and based on the current approach proposed in the Council, the application of this Directive would not result in any real change earlier than in 4 years from now given that the most used public websites already exist and the Member States delegations are proposing 2 years to transpose it to national law plus 2 years more for existing websites. Persons with disabilities have waited for this too long.
EDF wants to recall that the current levels of web accessibility in Europe remain too low. It is unacceptable that 80 million persons with disabilities still find barriers when surfing the web, the most used source of information and a gateway to increasingly more public services. In addition, we believe that this piece of legislation must be both fit for purpose and future-proof, therefore it should acknowledge the new channels and ways people access information and services online, including mobile devices and applications (apps).
In the Council progress reports, Member States continue to raise their concerns on the costs of the implementation of this legislation, and fail to acknowledge the cost of not putting such legislation in place. In reality, costs of implementation are relatively low, compared with the potential benefits, both technical (faster loading time of websites, enhanced usability, better indexation in search engines such as Google, wider compatibility with mobile devices), and social and economic, given that accessible websites and the digitalisation of the public sector will reach a broader and diverse audience, saving public money on more costly alternative channels to access information and services. But above all, access to websites is a legitimate and fundamental right for persons with disabilities to access information and services online on an equal basis with others.