Barry Mc Mullin
Dublin City University, Ireland
Barry McMullin is an Associate Professor in the School of
Electronic Engineering of Dublin City University (DCU), Ireland,
and also Director of the e-Accessibility laboratory of the
Research Institute for Networks and Communications Engineering
(RINCE), a public national research centre. The e-Accessibility
laboratory has been responsible for a number of large scale
evaluations of web accessibility across European states, and is
also active in the development of novel web browsing tools
specifically targeted at users with certain disabilities. Current
work includes participation in the E.U. funded Support-EAM project,
investigating the establishment of a European certification
scheme for web accessibility.
Dr. McMullin is a member of the W3C WAI Education and Outreach Working Group.
We report on a recent large scale study of the accessibility of E.U. public sector websites for users with disabilities. This was commissioned by the U.K. E.U. presidency under the auspices of the European Public Administration Network (EPAN). It was conducted between March and August 2005, with the full results formally presented at the E.U. Ministerial E-government conference in Manchester, in November 2005.
The study was carried out by a consortium led by RNIB (U.K.) together with DCU (Ireland), AbilityNet (U.K.) and Socitm Insight (U.K.). Additional contributions were made by RNID (U.K.) and Adobe Inc.
The objectives of the study were:
The scope of this study included 436 "e-government" websites from across the 25 E.U. member states. These were largely drawn from sites identified in previous E.U. e-Government benchmarking studies. Additional sites of particular national relevance were identified by EPAN member state representatives.
The methodology comprised a policy survey completed by member-state EPAN representatives, together with third-party accessibility evaluation of the target sites, based on W3C WCAG 1.0 (Level Double-A). The evaluation included extended automated assessment of all sites, followed by more detailed manual assessment of a smaller sample of sites. The manual assessment protocol was derived from the well-established R.N.I.B. "See It Right" process.
While the study identified many examples of positive practice, the results show that online public services in Europe have a long way to go before they are fully accessible and inclusive. In particular, there is still a pervasive level of failure (c. 70% of sites) against relatively basic, high priority, accessibility checkpoints.
The research does indicate that policy engagement is positively linked to the eAccessibility of eGovernment services and that rapid improvement should be achievable through co-ordinated effort by those who are best placed to effect change - the public policy-makers in the E.U., web managers and developers in public sector organisations and web designers in the software industry.
The full report provides a range of recommendations to be adopted by these stakeholders. Key among these is an invitation to each Member State, and the European Commission, to designate a "champion" for e-Accessibility (an individual or agency) who would have both the responsibility and the authority to deliver effective accessibility of all E.U. government websites for users with disability, by 2010 at the very latest; where, by "effective accessibility" we mean at least conformance to WCAG 1.0 Level Double-A (or the corresponding terms of WCAG 2.0, when adopted).