EU council urged to hurry on accessibility reforms

An organisation representing blind people says top EU politicians are effectively blocking reforms which would strengthen accessibility rules applying to public sector websites.

Last week, the European Parliament voted by 593 to 40 in favour of the reforms, included in a new directive.

The European Blind Union (EBU) welcomed the vote as a “strong message” to the EU Council of Ministers, which needs to amend and approve the directive before it is officially adopted.

EBU President Wolfgang Angermann said the directive is listed under the Greek Presidency’s work programme but that not a single meeting has been arranged to discuss it.

He said: “It is not enough for the Greek Presidency to have this directive on their ‘to do’ list; if the Presidency refuses to organise a meeting to discuss the directive with member states then they are effectively blocking the legislative process.”

There are more than 761,000 public sector websites offering access to information and services, but only a third of them meet international accessibility standards, according to a statement from the European Parliament.

The new rules backed by last week’s vote would require would require EU member states to ensure that websites, including mobile versions and user-generated content, were accessible “in a consistent and adequate way for users’ autonomous perception, navigation, operation, interaction, readability and understanding”.

Governments would be required to monitor and report progress to the EU each year.

If approved, councils would have three years within which to adapt existing content and five years if that content was “live audio”.

Speaking after the vote, rapporteur Jorgo Chatzimarkakis said: “In our increasingly digital world, accessibility is very much a human right. All people are entitled to use the Internet in order to exercise their fundamental rights.”

Angermann.said that failure by the council to act would delay the proposals for many months and harm blind and partially sighted citizens. He said: “People with sight loss have been shut out of the online world for far too long.”

Colin Marrs

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