On October 26, 2016, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union issued Directive 2016/2102/EU (“the Directive”) to make public sector websites and mobile applications (“apps”) more accessible across the European Union (“EU”). The Directive requires EU countries to ensure that the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies meet common/harmonized European accessibility standards. The Directive will allow citizens with disabilities to more fully participate in society, wherever they reside or choose to move to. Common standards allow for providers to know what standards need to be met thus reducing the cost of operation in different markets. At the same time, services are made available to a larger group of customers and citizens. The Directive will foster the commitment made by Member States that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (“UNCRPD”).
The Directive requires Member States to ensure that their public sector organizations work to make their “websites and mobile applications more accessible by making them perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.” Those four requirements—perceivable, operable, understandable and robust—are the four core principles of the international voluntary consensus standard Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG”). These principles of accessibility are indicated as testable success criteria form the basis of the European standard EN 301 549 V1.1.2 (2015-04) (Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe). The EN 301 549 standards should be considered as the minimum means of putting these principles into practice. In addition, when the standards are not met the Directive will ensure that people with disabilities will still be able to request specific information in accessible form if the primary content is inaccessible. People with disabilities will continue to have their rights to request a reasonable accommodation whether it be as an employee or citizen.
Why is the EU Doing This?
The Directive cites three large drivers for the need to implement digital accessibility standards at this point in time:
- Societal Trends – The EU, both in official policy and considering broader macro-demographic trends, sees a need for all member states to provide accessible technology. In this fashion, the EU clearly sees the formalization of this policy as the next step in this process.
- Treaty Obligations – The EU calls out the need for the Union as a whole, as well as for member states individually, to conform to their obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD itself and subsequent EU policy statements view implementing requirements for public sector sites as a requirement.
- Market Unity – Most interestingly, the EU cites the need for a consistent set of market standards as also driving the rule process. The EU warns that the market around digital solutions could fragment in the area of accessibility and smaller firms would face material challenges in competing in this environment. By providing a clear and consistent set of standards across the common EU market, costs can be driven down and competition encouraged.
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