Accessibility is moving forward – believe it or not

In the midst of our Accessibility Days, it finally happened: the European Council adopted the European Accessibility Act! It will take some time before it starts making a difference in peoples lifes, but we already notice that banks, e-commerce and other commercial sectors are beginning to act in order to meet the requirements.

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

The discussion about legislation or not legislation has been going on as long as I can remember. In Europe, many have asked for a regulatory framework, while the law's negative sides have been obvious in, for example, the U.S. When you are in the middle of standardization and policy development, it can sometimes feel like nothing happens, because everything is moving so slowly. But when you look back, it has actually happened a lot.

The European Discrimination Act didn’t move beyond a proposal, but the same year as it stranded, 2008, the decision was taken to develop a European standard of requirements for accessibility in the IT area. The goal was to influence procurement and a large and long-term work began, where Funka actively contributed.

A stepwise approach

In 2010, the EU ratified the UN Convention on Human Rights for Persons with Disabilities. The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is based on the Convention and highlights accessibility as an important factor. For most people, this is just words on a paper, but it paved the way for a number of initiatives:

  • 2012 the proposal for a Web Accessibility Directive that would apply to the public sector was publishes. No one knew whether it would be a reality or not, or how long it would take. Funka provided statistics on the level of accessibility in the EU Member States and the lobbying work for coordination accelerated.
  • In 2014, the European standard EN301549 was published, a great success after all the years of negotiations. Now, there are finally common requirements for accessibility within IT that European legislation can be built upon, and we begin to train procurers and industry in the EN standard as well as methodology of procurement.
  • In 2015, the proposal for a European Accessibility Act was presented. I remember it clearly because I was in Mexico to support the local government in their effort to use the EN-standard and had to call home for a couple of interviews. Many were excited, now everything would be accessible! But a proposal can change a lot on its way to final decision, which we have seen quite clearly in this case.
  • 2016, the Web Accessibility Directive entered into force. Suddenly, the EU had really entered the legislative path. I was commissioned to lead the group of experts who provide support to the European Commission and the Member States during the transition period and with the recommendations for the accessibility statement. In parallel, Funka started a network of monitoring bodies in different Member States who share knowledge and experience in the field.
  • In 2017, the Procurement Directive entered into force, with requirements for accessibility. Very soon, the IT industry's generalists began to realize that they would have to meet the requirements to continue delivering to the public sector. We noticed it clearly on all inquiries we received from brand new customers. The law made a difference.
  • In 2018, the Web Accessibility Directive began to apply to the public sector. Suddenly there was full speed - and loads of questions - not least because some countries didn’t have their monitoring agencies in place when the Directive started to mean something for real.
  • In 2019, the European Accessibility Act enters into force, which covers selected products and services in the private sector. At the same time, the public sector has the first target date for the Web Accessibility Directive, when new websites must meet the requirements for accessibility.

This means that authorities and municipalities will show the way for private businesses. In parallel as the European Commission draws up regulations for the Accessibility Act which targets products and services, the public sector will get used to making demands on accessibility regardless of whether they are developing new or upgrading existing websites. The industry meets the increasing demand with training and certification of consultants as part of the professional association IAAP's certification program.

There is definitely plenty left to do, but after years of stagnation, it actually feels as if the accessibility area is growing at high speed. I hope that our innovation projects aimed at educating more accessibility experts will be successful, so that in the future there will be many more professionals who can help make the digital world better for all of us.

Susanna Laurin
Chief Research & Innovation Officer

Related chronicles by Susanna Laurin

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