Brussels, 2 July 2008
15% of Europeans suffer from some form of disability, and many face barriers such as reading a website's small text or even knowing how to access websites and online services. Despite repeated calls by the EU and government leaders to improve this situation, progress remains limited: by far the majority of websites fail to use universally accepted user-friendly solutions. Today the European Commission launched a public consultation on further measures to make websites in Europe accessible, starting with those of public administrations, and invites stakeholders to give their views. It also addresses other technologies like digital television. The consultation is open until 27 August 2008.
"Access to internet websites is essential for many citizens in Europe, yet many simply cannot use them because of disabilities. As long as web accessibility for all is not a reality, many people miss out on the benefits of the Internet. There are such simple solutions to these issues – so why is it that so few web publishers actually implement them?" asks Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media. "The more people use the internet, the better for Europe's economy and the richer becomes online content. I call on the web publishing industry and public sector administrations to make a much more determined effort to ensure the web is accessible to everyone. Those responsible should remember that in a few years time, they will probably find themselves amongst those having trouble to read the screen.”
The average age of Europe's population is increasing rapidly, with 25% of the total population expected to be aged over 65, by 2020. Older people very often face difficulties using the internet, facing issues like reading the screen with failing eyesight or using a mouse with a dexterity problem. Simple web accessibility solutions open up sites to people otherwise unable to use them, and so extend the scope for social and economic participation as a result. Web accessibility solutions include
- enlarging text size used by browsers,
- providing spoken output of screen texts with the help of assistive software,
- navigating websites with the keyboard instead of the mouse.
Accessible websites are often better for all users, disabled or not. Founded in 1994 with the Commission's support, the World Wide Web consortium defines common specifications for the Internet, including Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. However in 2007, only 5% of public websites and less than 3% of private websites in the EU are found to be "fully accessible" according to these guidelines (MeAC - see background). Several Member States (amongst others Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal) have taken action to improve the situation, for example by introducing guidelines and setting targets for public websites. However, such approaches are still fragmented across the EU. Other new products mirror the accessibility challenges posed by websites: for example comprehension and dexterity problems can be a barrier to navigating the electronic programme guide of a digital television.
For its part, the European Commission addressed the accessibility of its public "Europa" websites in 2001 (IP/01/1309) and is working to implement accessibility. The Commission is currently testing the use of screen readers. These generate a combination of speech and/or refreshable Braille output allowing blind people, for example, to 'read' web pages (try a screen reader by clicking on the speaker icon next to the headline at http://ec.europa.eu/roaming).
The Public Consultation launched today will look at what actions Member States could take to improve web accessibility, and seeks feedback on more general issues of accessibility related to information and communication technologies for disabled persons.
Improved web accessibility also contributes to the Renewed Social Agenda (IP/08/1070).
This public consultation takes place in the broader context of the European Commission's initiative for growth and jobs in the information society (IP/05/643). In 2005, the European Commission adopted a Communication on e-accessibility (IP/05/1144) and stressed the need to make many types of products based on ICT easier to use. In 2006, EU Member States committed to halve by 2010 the gap in internet usage by groups at risk of exclusion, such as older people, people with disabilities, and unemployed persons (IP/06/769). In 2007 the Commission adopted a Communication urging renewed efforts to boost "e-Inclusion", including efforts towards "e-accessibility" (IP/07/1804).
The Commission's public consultation document is available at
Contributions can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The study "Measuring progress of eAccessibility in Europe" (MeAC) assesses the degree of compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the World Wide Web consortium. It is available at:
The World Wide Web consortium was founded in 1994 with the support of the European Commission and today involves over 400 companies and authorities. Its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are available at:
The new European Commission portal on social affairs: