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European Union: Draft Directive on Accessibility of Government Websites to All

(Dec. 18, 2012) On December 2, 2012, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on the accessibility to all individuals of government websites. (Press Release, European Commission, IP 12/1305, Digital Agenda: Commission Proposes Rules to Make Government Websites Accessible to All (Dec. 3, 2012).)

The proposal introduces mandatory European Union (EU) standardized features for certain websites, including:

  • job search services by labor offices;
  • social-security benefits: unemployment benefits, child allowances, medical costs (reimbursement or direct settlement), or student grants;
  • personal documents: passports or drivers’ licenses;
  • car registration;
  • applications for building permits;
  • declarations to police of, e.g., petty theft;
  • request and delivery of birth or marriage certificates;
  • enrollment in higher education, such as in a university;
  • notification of change of residence; and
  • health-related services: interactive advice on the availability of services, online services for patients, and appointments. (<?Id., Annex after Press Release text.)

The proposal also focuses on making the above types of websites accessible to those with disabilities. It is estimated that people with disabilities, who currently number close to 80 million people in the EU and those over the age of 65, who number nearly 87 million, will benefit the most from improved website accessibility. Among the 27 EU Member States, 21 Members provide government website accessibility to their citizens to some extent, based on national laws or regulations. As the Commission acknowledges, however, progress is very slow; only one third of Europe’s 761,000 public sector and government websites are fully accessible, despite EU research funding on technical solutions to facilitate accessibility. (Id.)

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said,

These days virtually all of us depend on internet access to go about our daily lives in one way or another, and we all have the right to equal access to government services online. This proposal would make that right a reality, and not just an idea. It would create better market conditions, more jobs, and make it cheaper for governments to make their websites accessible. (Id.)

The proposal, once approved by the Council and the Parliament, will have to be implemented by the EU Members by June 30, 2014. (Id.)