Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 15 September-October 2002

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European Union Places Full Internet Access High on its Agenda
By Andrew Freeway

The accessibility of websites is becoming a top issue and a rising star on the political agenda. First the USA introduced Section 508 by giving the possibility to take criminal action against inaccessible websites. These actions can even force the website publisher to readjust its site. And now it is Europe's turn!

The European Union has 3 important bodies: the Council, the Commission and the Parliament. The Council comprises all ministers of all member states; the Commission is composed of the Chairman and all 15 Commissioners; and the Parliament consists of individuals directly chosen by the people of the member states.

The Council's Transport and Telecommunication Committee assembled on March 25/26 debated the accessibility of Internet and issued a resolution on the importance of web accessibility (http://ue.eu.int/).

The Council of the European Union declares itself as a real supporter of "full access of the net" and decided to discuss this matter with the European Parliament and the European Commission. Also the member states are invited and encouraged to improve the access of public websites according to the W3C protocol. In 2003, the European Year of the Disabled, even more measures will be taken to assure full access of the Internet.

But not only is the Council speaking out on this issue, also the Commission has stated its intention to give priority to gaining access to the net. eEurope, a project of the Commission, will be next year's "carrier" for numerous initiatives in this matter. At a plenary session of the Parliament last February, the Economical and Social Committee pledged the importance of having European directives to force member states to make their official websites accessible or face being sued for discriminating against disabled people. Since even the members of Parliament spoke out in favor of measures to improve accessibility, these directives lie just around the corner.

On June 13 the European Parliament, stating the importance of the accessibility of websites for the participation and emancipation of disabled people in general, accepted a resolution. The resolution is part of a paper giving a reaction to the announcement of the European Commission on the eEurope 2002 initiative. The resolution is 'asking' the European institutes and the member states to make all their websites accessible before 2003.

Underscoring importance of W3C
This is the first time a European resolution is referencing the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines of the W3C. These internationally developed guidelines mainly address software developers and content managers to create accessible websites. Having websites accessible for disabled people makes it much easier for to obtain paid jobs in this area or in any other area where the internet is important. The Parliament emphasized the importance of the triple A conformity. European institutes and member state governments are asked to fulfill priority 1 as well as priority 2 of the W3C/WCAG guidelines.

However, the resolution is not binding. The member states are still free to do whatever they please but the resolution shows everybody the position the European Parliament has taken in this issue.

For more information http://www.europarl.eu.int/

If you are a European, instruct the organizations of disabled people in your country about the W3C guidelines and let them confront your civil servants with this new obligation.

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