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The contribution of European Standardization to web accessibility

Luc Van den Berghe
CEN, Belgium


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Speaker's information

Luc Van den Berghe works for CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, where he is contributing to CEN's ICT standardization work. In this capacity, he is the main contact for CEN's standardization projects in the domain of eAccessibility. He is the Secretary of the DATSCG, the Design for All and Assistive Technologies Standards Co-ordination Group, a group with participation of the main stakeholders in eAccessibility standardization.



eAccessibility became an issue for all European Standardization bodies when the Commission issued a Standardization mandate in 1998 (M/273) requesting the European Standards bodies to identify standards needed to make the Information Society accessible to everyone, including elderly people and people with special needs.

The results were published in 2000 in a comprehensive report, still available on line; in addition to the report, the mandate also led to the creation of a coordinating group among standardization initiatives, the Design for All and Assistive Technologies Standardization Co-ordination Group - D.A.T.S.C.G. Participation in D.A.T.S.C.G. comprises representation from the 3 formal European Standards Organizations (the 3 E.S.Os.), CEN, CENELEC and ETSI but also from other specification providers such as W3C and from stakeholders such as EICTA, EDF, ANEC, AAATE, etc.

2) E.Ns. and other deliverables

This membership represents the reality that standardization, certainly in the I.C.T. domain, is not limited to the formal standards bodies. And, standardization in C.E.N., C.E.N.E.L.E.C. or E.T.S.I. is not limited to the production of European Standards (E.Ns.), there are also other deliverables such as Technical Specifications (T.Ss.) and C.E.N. Workshop Agreements (C.W.As.). These deliverables have their specific characteristics.

The principal deliverable of C.E.N., the European standard (E.N.), must be published by each of the N.S.Bs. as an identical national standard, with any pre-existing national standards in conflict being withdrawn. This process is designed to achieve European harmonization through the creation of the broadest possible consensus and the representation of all interested parties. Hence the E.N. is a recognised tool to support the implementation of European legislation (directives). It should be noted though that European Standards, even developed under a mandate and for European legislation, remain voluntary in their use.

The C.E.N. Workshop Agreement (C.W.A.) is designed to satisfy market demands for a more flexible and timelier alternative to the European Standard (E.N.). The C.W.A. is developed by C.E.N. Workshops, comprising only participants with direct interest. Hence it is an alternative to de facto standards developed by consortia but with the advantage of featuring openness of participation, and transparency in initiative and process.

3) C.E.N. Workshops currently operational

Two C.E.N. Workshops are currently active in the area of eAccessibility. They both make part of an I.S.T-project under F.P.6.

The Workshop called "Document Processing for Accessibility", closely linked to the EUAIN project, has the ambition to produce a C.W.A. with guidelines on the integration of accessibility components within the document management and publishing process.

The "Workshop W.A.C.", closely linked to the Support-EAM project, addresses an approach towards a European Web Accessibility Quality Mark, through Self Declaration of Conformity as well as through certification. The requirements document against which conformity will have to be stated is not within the Workshop's scope. There is a growing consensus in the Workshop that this requirements document should be published as an E.S.O. deliverable. An E.N., with its consequences for the national standards level, would be a major step. But also a C.W.A. or T.S. could be a possible next step, if an E.N. would prove to be too difficult as target deliverable. In all cases, W3C/WAI will be a necessary partner given that there is agreement that the requirements document has to be consistent with WCAG.

4) The Keymark

In the discussion about a Web Accessibility Quality Mark, the Keymark has been suggested as a possible approach. The Keymark is a voluntary third-party European certification mark, developed by C.E.N., demonstrating to the consumer or user of a product that it is in conformity with the relevant European Standard(s). The Keymark can also be used for services.

Keymark Schemes exist for instance for thermal insulation products and for solar thermal products. The Keymark can only be granted by certification bodies that have been 'empowered' by the C.E.N. Certification Board. The Keymark currently only can be allocated to demonstrate conformity to an E.N. No process or mark exist yet for a C.W.A. but the possibility has been accepted as worth exploring in the future.

The Keymark Scheme does not fit with the stated requirement that a web accessibility mark should also be possible following a self-declaration of conformity.

5) The new Mandate related to accessible I.C.T. procurement

Following the first eAccessibility mandate in 1998, the Commission has financially supported European standardization projects in C.E.N., C.E.N.E.L.E.C. and E.T.S.I. At the end of 2005, a new standardization mandate has been issued to the E.S.Os., asking for standards "in support of European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services in the I.C.T. domain". The objective is to harmonise in Europe the accessibility requirements applied in public procurement of I.C.T. products and services. Web accessibility is one of the areas that will be explicitly addressed when delivering to this mandate.

The Mandate also asks for an analysis on testing and conformity schemes of products and services meeting accessibility requirements, addressing the full range of possible solutions, including supplier self-declaration, certification/ accreditation of suppliers, and third party certification schemes. The demonstration of Conformance with eAccessibility Requirements in I.C.T. Products and Services is also the subject of a conference that will take place in Brussels on 27 March, for which the preparation is in the hands of the D.A.T.S.C.G.

Web References:

Presentation Luc Van Den Berghe (ppt, 379.00 Ko)

See the French version

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