Mark McCusker

It’s the law. EU enforces public web accessibility

We’re yet to see how the ramifications of Brexit play out in the UK. But in the meantime there’s one initiative from Europe’s rule makers that we’ve welcomed here at Texthelp.

Late last year, the European Parliament enforced a ‘Web Directive’, compelling public sector organisations to make provision in their websites and mobile apps for users with disabilities. Here’s the original news release from October 2016, detailing how the directive’s scope extends to public sector administrations as well as bodies like hospitals and courts.

At Texthelp we’re big champions of Universal Design principles: and as we’ve pointed out before, building accessibility into any digital resource is always good news. Extra features can have benefits for every user, regardless of whether they’ve got disabilities or not. With our Browsealoud technology, for instance, web pages can be safely read out loud when you’re driving a car or busy doing something else.

Counting down to 2018

The clock’s ticking, and EU Member States have until autumn 2018 to translate this directive into their own legislation. And while it’s up to individual states how and when to comply, early movers like Norway and Israel are wasting no time in implementing the new order.

If you’re interested to know more, read this analysis by our Nordic region partners Funka, accessibility consultants who were closely involved in the directive’s original development. 

Readers of this blog may feel a sense of déjà vu here. Last spring we reported on initiatives by the US Department of Justice to improve the accessibility of State and local government websites. 

After hiccups to the original schedule, things seemed to be inching forward. It now looks like the DOJ will issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in July this year, paving the way – in theory at least – to sweeping new accessibility requirements for public sector web providers. It’s still early days, of course. The new Trump administration may of course put the brake on further progress, and at this point it’s too early to tell what will happen next in the US.

In the midst of regulatory uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s worth recalling the DOJ’s forecast that new accessibility legislation will be worth $100 million annually in terms of improved service delivery and citizen engagement.

So don’t wait to have best practise forced on you by legal statute. By taking positive steps to improve their online accessibility, public sector organisations can seize a uniquely valuable opportunity right now.

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