EU Parliament Passes Broad Web Accessibility Law

March 13, 2014 |

At the end of last month, the European Union Parliament passed a broad Web accessibility law.   The EU Commission had recommended that only public sector websites that fell within one of twelve categories of specific social services be made accessible.  The EU Parliament has now expanded this to include all public sector sites.  Furthermore, the EU Parliament’s law now includes private sector sites that provided key public services (e.g. utility companies and companies providing transportation, childcare, and health services).

This is particularly important because only one-third of public sector sites are currently accessible, while sixty percent of Europeans accesses the Internet every day.  The draft passed by the EU Parliament would require that:

  • Covered websites must conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA—the same standard being adopted worldwide by governments for Web accessibility.
  • Websites must conform within three different timelines.  New content must conform within one year, existing content must conform within three years, and live audio content must conform within five years of final passage of the new law.

Ah, but things are never simple in Europe.  Now that the law has passed the EU Parliament, it’s now off to the EU Council, where the heads of all of the member states will argue over it.  And, that’s where things get sticky.  They could simply accept it or reject it—but, if I had to put my money anywhere, I’d say that they will very likely send it back to the EU Parliament for reconsideration.  For instance, the Greek presidency apparently doesn’t want to touch this law with a ten-foot pole.

Despite this potential delay, disability groups are urging Council members to pass this landmark law.  On behalf of itself, the Age Platform Europe (AGE) and ANEC (a consumer group focused on standardization) and the European Disability Forum are urging rapid consideration and passage of the EU Parliament’s law.  The European Blind Union (EBU) has similarly supported the law—and specifically targeted the Greek Presidency for its lobbying efforts.

So what should multinational companies do in the face of all this confusion?  Here the answer is clear: adopt WCAG 2.0.  Many countries currently require WCAG 2.0 AA for public sector websites—and we’re seeing it creep into private sector websites as well (I have exciting news about THAT topic in my next post).  The signs are everywhere that WCAG 2.0 AA is here to stay.  Companies that adopt WCAG 2.0 AA now—and incorporate it into their Web development processes—aren’t risking their investment on a legal uncertainty.  By contrast, they are avoiding risk (again see my next post) while improving business opportunities.  After all, as a consumer, would you rather deal with a company that makes customer-focused changes only when the law required them to—or would you rather deal with a company that thinks about its customer needs proactively?

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Ken Nakata

Ken Nakata, JD, CIPP/US is the one of the most well-known attorneys in the area of IT accessibility and is the Director of Cryptzone’s Accessibility Consulting Practice (ACP). Nakata’s work focuses on Web and software accessibility from both a legal and technical perspective. Nakata’s ACP team helps organizations manage the change towards accessibility in all aspects, providing consulting services aimed at shaping their accessibility policies and practices, and evaluating the overall state of their Web properties leveraging Cryptzone’s accessibility solutions. He is also a board member for the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP),of which Cryptzone is a founding member.

Nakata worked for twelve years as a Senior Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. He has argued on behalf of the United States government many times before the federal courts and has helped shape the government’s policies for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Nakata also worked as Director of Accessibility and Government Compliance at BayFirst Solutions, a Washington, DC consulting firm.

In 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno presented Nakata with the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Information Technology. In addition to practicing law, Nakata is active in software and web-based technologies, including Java, JavaScript, SQL, and ColdFusion. In July 2001, he was certified by Sun Microsystems as a programmer for the Java 2 Platform. Nakata is a frequent speaker on both law and technology and is equally adept at conducting one-on-one workshops with programmers and developers as well as explaining law and policy to large audiences. He holds a Bachelors of Art degree in mathematics from John Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is admitted to the bars of New York, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania and Washington.

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