Press Release – All EU public-sector websites must be accessible today

As of today, all European public-sector bodies are legally obliged to have websites that are accessible for all members of the public, including persons with disabilities. EDF launches a survey to measure if this has happened.

The Web Accessibility Directive, which was adopted in 2016, sets 23 September 2020 as the date by which all public-sector websites across the EU must be accessible for persons with disabilities.

To celebrate this important day for digital accessibility and participation in the EU, we co-hosted an online discussion on the Web Accessibility Directive with Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology of the European Commission. Key stakeholders highlighted the achievements and remaining challenges in terms of practical implementation of web accessibility from different perspectives, including policy makers, national governments, activists, academia, accessibility professionals, and of course persons with disabilities.

During the event, we launched a survey among members of the disability community in Europe to ask about their experience in accessing public sector websites. This survey is available in English, French and Spanish. This survey aims to determine the real impact of EU law on the lived experiences of persons with disabilities when accessing online public services. It also questions about the usefulness of the accessibility statements to be placed in all public-sector websites, as well as the feedback and enforcement mechanisms set out in the Directive.

In the event, Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, opened the discussion noting that “Websites of public sector bodies must be accessible, thanks to the Web Accessibility Directive. This will change the lives of millions of persons with disabilities and open up new opportunities for them. Collectively we can break the digital divide and go for a Union of equality”.

Dita Charanzová, Vice President of European Parliament and Rapporteur for the Web Accessibility Directive reminded that the original proposal included only 12 online services. “I’ve learned in this file to never give up a fight that is worth fighting”, she said and promised to remain an ally for persons with disabilities in the European Parliament.

Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disabilities Forum welcomed everyone and noted that “We have come a long way for web accessibility and persons with disabilities have campaigned tirelessly to achieve strong legislation, clear standards and better technology. But this is only one step in the long path towards achieving equal access and rights for all EU citizens. We continue to work hard, so that EU policy finally ensures full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the European Union and all Member States properly apply all EU laws on accessibility and equal rights.”

In his keynote speech, web accessibility expert Bart Simons stressed that focusing on compliance with the law is only a first step, and that public bodies should go beyond to make more inclusive online services through their websites and mobile apps.

Two panel discussions explored the achievements and remaining challenges in relation to the Web Accessibility Directive, and practical application and solutions for ensuring its requirements.

Gudrun Stock, Deputy Head of Unit at DG CNECT, European Commission, gave overview of the Web Accessibility Directive and outlined the implementing acts and standards developed to support implementation of the law. She also noted that the Commission is about to embark on the first review of the Directive.

Holmberg Åsa and Elisabeth Aguilera, accessibility specialists shared the experience of public sector bodies in Sweden, highlighting the importance and challenges of intersection between web accessibility and public procurement.

Stefania Mircheska, Expert for e-Government Strategies and Policies, presented their experience with working with persons with disabilities for effective implementation of the Directive in Bulgaria.

Shadi Abou-Zahra, Accessibility Strategy and Technology specialist at the Web Accessibility Initiative of W3C, presented various open source tools developed to support implementation of the Directive, such as the online course on web accessibility of W3C and UNESCO. He stressed that accessibility is not limited to technical solutions but is also about raising awareness and training.

Stein Erik Skotkjerra, accessibility expert, CEO of “Inklusio”, shared how to measure accessibility while ensuring user-involvement in the process.

In the second panel Armony Altinier, researcher, Founder and CEO of “Koena”, discussed what needs to be done for practical change. She noted lack of digital accessibility awareness and training as remaining issues in France.

George Rhodes, Digital Accessibility specialist and director of “All Able”, complemented Ms Altinier’s presentation, nothing the significant differences between countries he found when reviewing accessibility statements in several countries including the UK, Spain, Denmark, and Luxembourg.

“Today is the beginning of another journey”, noted Alejandro Moledo, EDF Policy Coordinator, as he launched the EDF survey for persons with disabilities’ access to public websites.

Finally, Lene Naesager, Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication, European Commission, presented how the European Commission puts in the practice ‘design for everyone’ principle when creating its websites.

The discussion was closed by a video address from Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for Internal Market, who highlighted the key role of digital accessibility and the Web Directive as a game-changer for overall accessibility, and forecasted expertise in digital accessibility as a critical competitive edge for ICT professionals in the internal market.

The recording of the event will be soon available on EDF website.

Survey links in English, French, and Spanish.