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4th European eAccessibility Forum

eAccessibility of Public Services in Europe

12/04/2010, 9:00 - 18:00
Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie - Paris, France

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Printable version

Comparative approaches to current legislation on eAccessibility in Europe

Donal Rice (Dublin, Ireland)
National Disability Authority, Ireland
DJRice (at) nda.ie

Speaker's information

photo Donal Rice

Dónal Rice is the Senior Design Advisor, ICT for the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority of Ireland.

He chairs the CEN Workshop Agreement on Curriculum for Training Professionals in Universal Design and is the Editorial Coordinator of the e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers (a joint ITU, G3ict, UN-GAID project). 

Dónal is currently undertaking a PhD thesis in eAccessibility and legislation with the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway through which he collaborates on the "Study on Monitoring eAccessibility" consortium.



[Notice : The short papers of this conference have been prepared by BrailleNet who accept any responsibility for them. But presentation materials provided for download (full-papers or slides) have been provided by the authors themselves]

E-Accessibility continues to be hailed as a critical success factor for achieving a  Single Market in Europe.  The European Commission (EC) has long advocated and supported a harmonised approach to the adoption of e-accessibility standards, particularly those relating to the web. But studies show that low level of web accessibility continue to be the norm. 

The European Commission's signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150) could be seen as a precursor to further horizontal legislation such as a 'European Disability Act'. But Member States can also take steps to align their e-Accessibility policies with the digital accessibility obligations of the Convention.

This paper will look at what actions policy makers in Member States can take to further strengthen policy and legislation is relation to electronic access to public services and information. It will draw from EC commissioned monitoring studies and from theories of technology regulation to further suggest which parts of the web accessibility regulatory environment Member States should focus efforts on. 

An overview of the resources available on the e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities  will be made.


At the 2006 ministerial conference in Riga, e-Inclusion was defined as meaning both the use of ICT to achieve wider inclusion objectives and inclusive ICT, or e-accessibility.  E-inclusion goals in general and equal access to the internet in particular are put forward as  key objectives in the formation of the Single Market, enhancing economic prosperity and social cohesion.

Web accessibility law and policies

Almost all Member States have developed some national web accessibility policies.  The 2008 study “Measuring Progress of e-Accessibility in Europe” (MeAC) identified the range of these policy approaches. In spite of these relatively long-standing and strong policies, the levels of accessibility of public (government) website are very low with a very small number of websites meeting the minimum international standards (5.3% passing both automated and manual tests against level 1 of WCAG 1.0). 

MeAC shows that the regulatory environment within member states consists of a myriad of different types and strengths of regulation. This ‘patchwork’ approach makes it difficult to objectively assess the legitimacy and effectiveness of the different approaches. To review the effectiveness of the regulation (legislation and policy) of web accessibility it is useful to draw from some definitions and frameworks used more generally by regulators in other technological domains.

Web accessibility and regulatory approaches

All forms of regulation, not just that pertaining to technology, have certain characteristics.  It involves activities such as setting standards, directing behaviour, monitoring compliance, detecting and correcting (in the case of non-compliance). 

There is a long history of ‘standards setting’ in relation to web accessibility in Member States.  Some countries refer to the W3C Web Accessibility Initiatives “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” (WCAG) in regulation. Some have defined their own set of web accessibility guidelines. 

Questions of legitimacy and effectiveness

In light of the critically low level of web accessibility achieved to date through equality and anti-discrimination legislation it is useful to apply some of the types of questions more widely asked about technology regulation in general.  Five such questions put forward by Roger Brownsword (2008) are:

By overlaying these questions on top of the evidence available from the MeAC reports, it is possible to make some new high-level observations about the state of web accessibility regulation such as: 1) Web accessibility regulation in general suffers from a lack of legitimacy 2) Regulatory interventions to date have by in large not been successful. 3) Issues exist with regard to how web accessibility regulation in general engages with the domain it is trying to regulate 4) While web accessibility regulation may match up with ideals such as societal values around fair treatment and anti-discrimination, it is perhaps not viewed as being of significant importance.

e-Accessibility Toolkit for Policy Makers

A new toolkit was launched in February 2010. The e-Accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities is a global electronic repository of policies, international standards, good practices and technical references on digital accessibility, compiled by 58 faculty and contributors.  Developed by G3ict and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Toolkit aims to provide policy makers with the information and resources necessary to formulate relevant, progressive, and properly connected regulation on e-accessibility.


This paper has looked at some of the issues presenting from recent studies.  While the MeAC reports go some way towards establishing a connection between so-called ‘strong’ legislation and levels of e-accessibility within countries, drawing on other frameworks of reference help to facilitate a more sophisticated  analysis and discussion among stakeholders such as policy makers, the technology industry, Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) and end users.  There are clearly many avenues and modalities of regulation open to policy makers particularly in the area of web accessibility.  


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