How the Web Accessibility Directive affects the member states
As an expert in the subgroup that is assigned by the European Commission (EC) to provide support to the member states and the EC, these are interesting times. In June, the commission, the member states representatives and the external experts in the so called WADex group met again to discuss the best ways to move forward.
During the time when the directive is being transposed into national legislation, the expert subgroup is focusing on three specific topics:
- Monitoring and reporting
- Accessibility statement
- Mobile requirements
I am the penholder of the monitoring-part, which is usually what member states are most worried about. In parallel with the expert assignment for the European Commission, we are also providing support to a number of national governments, meaning that we have to solve both small details and large strategic issues.
Useful and feasible
Website- and app-owners covered by the directive will need to comply with accessibility standards. The discussion right now is mostly focusing on how to report this in a coherent way without too much of a burden. At the member state level, an agency will be responsible for monitoring compliance and reporting this to the European Commission. Again, the question is about how this will be made in practical terms, and what data the commission will need to compare and control the result of the legislation. Transparency, comparability and of course accuracy are important pillars.
The second issue is what the accessibility statements should contain. Website- and app-owners need to publish a statement, but how detailed should that be and what should the information be based on? The answer might depend on whether the statement is there to support end users or the monitoring – or both. In my view, it is important that monitoring, reporting and the statement are interconnected to avoid confusion.
These topics are difficult enough to get agreement on, but to make things a bit more complicated, the technical specifications for requirements of mobile apps does not exist yet, at least not as a European standard. The European Commission has issued a Mandate 554 to make sure there is a harmonised EN-standard, but until now the work has not started and the different standardisation bodies do not seem to agree on how to move on. As we all know, standards usually take a long time to develop, so I hope for everyone to be constructive. In parallel, W3C is working on success criteria for mobile in their next version of WCAG, but for the Web Accessibility Directive, the requirements need to be European.
Timing is essential
In the WADex-meetings, it is clear that the time line for transposition is generally perceived as a problem. Since the specifics of the three main topics are yet to be resolved, the member states have different approaches. Some are waiting for further instructions before moving ahead, others are already presenting suggestions for new legislation on accessibility. This does of course also have to do with the current situation in each country; member states with existing legislation usually find it easier to harmonise with EU-legislation, but countries with no legislation need to write it from scratch, which is of course more time consuming. Another complicating fact is countries with human rights legislation that do cover web accessibility without being very specific. The balance between technical granularity and basic inclusion is not always that easy to define from a legal perspective.
While the rest of you go on holiday, we will keep working on recommendations to make sure all member states can agree while the policy makers and lawyers try to fit the aim of the directive into efficient national legislation.
The most encouraging from the WADex-meetings is that it seems like there is an overall shift from ”this will be too expensive” towards ”how can we make this valuable to end users as well as public sector bodies and member states”. This does not mean the question about reasonable costs is going away. But even a small shift in mind-set is important.