Dissecting the WAD, part 2

In part 1 of this series about the WAD, we covered the title and heading sections. In this second part we go through the introductory recitals which give the background to the directive. The official text is available here.

(1) The trend towards a digital society provides users with new ways of accessing information and services. The providers of information and services, such as public sector bodies, rely increasingly on the internet in order to produce, collect and provide a wide range of information and services online which are essential to the public.

More and more information is provided and exchanged in a digital format using online services. Information published by public sector bodies is often essential to the public

(2) In the context of this Directive, accessibility should be understood as principles and techniques to be observed when designing, constructing, maintaining, and updating websites and mobile applications in order to make them more accessible to users, in particular persons with disabilities.

Accessibility is a way of publishing information on websites and mobile applications so that it can be accessed by people with any type disabilities.

(3) The fast-growing market for making digital products and services more accessible comprises a range of economic operators, such as those developing websites or software tools to create, manage and test web pages or mobile applications, those developing user agents such as web browsers and related assistive technologies, those implementing certification services and those providing training.

There are a number of companies and organisations involved in making digital information more accessible. These include website and mobile application developers, those offering web content management systems, the creators of web browsers and assistive technologies and those offering training and certification services.

(4) As underlined in the Commission communication of 19 May 2010 entitled ‘A Digital Agenda for Europe’, public authorities should play their part in promoting markets for online content. Governments can stimulate content markets by making public sector information available under transparent, effective and non-discriminatory terms. This is an important source of potential growth of innovative online services.

The public sector can stimulate and promote markets for accessible online content by ensuring that public information is made transparently available to all persons, regardless of their ability or disability.

(5) Several Member States have adopted measures based on internationally used guidelines for the design of accessible websites, but those measures often relate to different versions or compliance levels of those guidelines, or have introduced technical differences in respect of accessible websites at national level.

The implementation of measures to ensure the accessibility of public information has so far not been consistent across member states of the European Union. The compliance levels needed at national level vary significantly across the member states.

(6) Suppliers of accessible websites, mobile applications and related software and technologies include a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Such suppliers, and SMEs in particular, are discouraged from entering into business ventures outside their national markets. Due to the differences between Member States in accessibility specifications and regulations, suppliers’ competitiveness and growth are hampered by the additional costs they would incur in the development and marketing of cross-border web accessibility-related products and services.

Those creating websites, mobile applications and related software are discouraged from doing business outside their national markets due to the lack of uniform regulations defining accessibility requirements of online content. The costs in ensuring compliance across different member states reduces the competitiveness and growth prospects of the suppliers.

(7) Due to limited competition, buyers of websites, mobile applications and related products and services are faced with high prices in respect of the provision of services or dependence on a single supplier. Suppliers often favour variations of proprietary ‘standards’, hindering subsequent scope for interoperability of user agents and Union-wide ubiquitous access to the content of websites and mobile applications. Fragmentation among national regulations reduces the benefits that could result from sharing experiences with national and international peers in responding to societal and technological developments.

The lack of common standards for web accessibility across the EU leads to fragmented regulations leading to higher costs in creating accessible content because of a lack of EU-wide competition. Further, user agent providers and assistive technology developers have to deal with a number of different standards, making their product more costly than need be.

(8) In a harmonised framework, the design and development industry for websites and mobile applications should face fewer barriers to operating in the internal market, while costs for public sector bodies and others procuring products and services relating to the accessibility of websites and mobile applications should be reduced.

A common European standard will make it easier for companies and industry to create accessible websites and mobile applications across the internal market and will reduce costs for those wanting to buy such services.

(9) This Directive aims to ensure that the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies are made more accessible on the basis of common accessibility requirements. The approximation of national measures at Union level, based on the agreed accessibility requirements for the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies, is necessary in order to put an end to fragmentation of the internal market. It would reduce uncertainty for developers and would foster interoperability. The use of accessibility requirements which are technology-neutral will not hamper innovation, and may even stimulate it.

Fragmentation of the internal market will be removed with the common accessibility requirements of the WAD. Further, it will ensure increased accessibility of public sector content across the EU’s internal market, reduce uncertainty and promote interoperability of web content. Finally, since the requirements are technology-neutral, innovation will be supported, not reduced.

(10) Approximation of national measures should also allow Union public sector bodies and enterprises to obtain economic and social benefits from extending the provision of online or mobile services to include more citizens and customers. This should increase the potential of the internal market for products and services relating to the accessibility of websites and mobile applications. The resulting market growth should allow undertakings to contribute to economic growth and job creation within the Union. Strengthening the internal market should make investment in the Union more attractive. Public sector bodies would benefit from cheaper provision of web accessibility-related products and services.

Having common standards that will enable online and mobile services to reach more citizens and customers will lead economic and social benefits. This will make the internal market for web and mobile accessibility larger, leading economic growth, more jobs and a more attractive investment environment. Public sector bodies would benefit from cheaper provision of web accessibility related products and services.

(11) Citizens would benefit from wider access to public sector services through websites and mobile applications and would receive services and information facilitating their daily lives and the enjoyment of their rights across the Union, in particular their right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Union, their freedom of establishment and their freedom to provide services.

The WAD will benefit citizens by enabling greater access to public sector services and the resulting increased access to information will help them in their daily lives and ensure they are able to make use of their rights across the entire EU, such as the right to move, work and live freely within the EU.

(12) By respectively ratifying and concluding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted on 13 December 2006 (‘the UN Convention’), the majority of Member States and the Union have committed themselves to taking appropriate measures to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to, inter alia, information and communication technologies and systems, to develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public, and to promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet, and have undertaken to refrain from engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with that Convention and to ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with it. The UN Convention also stipulates that the design of products, environments, programmes and services should enable their use by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. Such ‘universal design’ should not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities, where this is needed. According to the UN Convention, persons with disabilities include those having long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which may, in conjunction with other barriers, hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Having ratified the UNCRPD the majority of member states and the EU have committed themselves for ensuring greater access for persons with disabilities to, amongst other things, web content and mobile applications. The WAD ensures this commitment is now a legal commitment under EU law with respect to web accessibility. The UNCRPD essentially states that people with disabilities must enjoy their full rights as citizens, most not be discriminated against and that tools and services must be built to enable this.

(13) The Commission communication of 15 November 2010 entitled ‘European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe’ builds on the UN Convention and aims to eliminate barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis. It sets out actions to be taken in several priority areas, including accessibility of information and communications technologies and systems, and its objective is to ensure accessibility to goods, services (including public services) and assistive devices for people with disabilities.

In November 2010 the Commission renewed it’s commitment to removing barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis and set out actions to be taken to ensure this commitment, including accessibility of ICT.

(14) Regulations (EU) No 1303/2013 (3) and (EU) No 1304/2013 (4) of the European Parliament and of the Council contain provisions on the accessibility of information and communication technology (ICT). They do not, however, address the specificities of the accessibility of websites or of mobile applications.

Previous regulations whilst containing provisions for ICT, however they lacked detail regarding accessibility of websites and mobile applications.

(15) Horizon 2020 — The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, established by Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council (5), supports research on, and the development of, technological solutions to accessibility problems.

The research program, Horizon 2020, supports research research and development of solutions to accessibility problems.

(16) In its communication of 15 December 2010 entitled ‘The European eGovernment Action Plan 2011-2015 — Harnessing ICT to promote smart, sustainable & innovative Government’, the Commission called for action to develop eGovernment services that ensure inclusiveness and accessibility. This includes measures to reduce the gap in ICT usage and to promote the use of ICT to overcome exclusion, thus ensuring that all users are able to make the most of the opportunities presented. In its communication of 19 April 2016 entitled ‘EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020 — Accelerating the digital transformation of government’, the Commission reiterates the importance of inclusiveness and accessibility.

In its action plan for 2011 to 2015, published in December 2010 and reiterated in its action plan for 2016 to 2020, the Commission called for the development of eGovernment services that ensure inclusiveness and accessibility of information. This includes measures the gap in ICT usage and promoting the use ICT to overcome exclusion.

(17) In the Digital Agenda for Europe, the Commission announced that public sector websites should be fully accessible by 2015, thereby reflecting the Riga Ministerial Declaration of 11 June 2006.

Nothing more to add. The Riga Ministerial Declaration can be found here.

(18) In the Digital Agenda for Europe, the Commission stressed that concerted actions were needed to ensure that new electronic content was fully available to persons with disabilities, in order to provide Europeans with a better quality of life through, for instance, easier access to public services and cultural content. It also encouraged the facilitation of the Memorandum of Understanding on digital access for persons with disabilities.

Essentially saying that accessibility of information doesn’t just happen, but that it is something that needs to continuously worked on.

(19) Content of websites and mobile applications includes textual as well as non-textual information, downloadable documents and forms, and two-way interaction such as the processing of digital forms and the completion of authentication, identification and payment processes.

Definition of websites and mobile applications. They include non-text content such images and videos, documents either downloaded or embedded in the website and all forms of interaction such as authentication, identification and payment processes.

(20) The accessibility requirements set out in this Directive should not apply to content which is to be found exclusively on mobile devices, or to user agents for mobile devices, which are developed for closed groups of users or for specific use within certain environments and which are not available to and used by large parts of the public.

Excluded from the WAD is content developed for closed groups of users of for use in certain environments and which are available to and used by the general public.

Continue to the third part of this series.