Commission opens public consultation to improve website accessibility in Europe

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. On July 2nd 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.

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.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media, highlighted the importance of bringing the benefits of internet access to all citizens in Europe. “There are such simple solutions to these issues – so why is it that so few web publishers actually implement them?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 European Commission also addressed the accessibility of its public "Europa" websites in 2001 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.

The Public Consultation 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.

Contributions can be sent until August 27th to: