On 23rd September 2022, in celebration of the EU Web Accessibility Directive’s second anniversary, the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and the European Disability Forum (EDF) held a virtual online event.
Ms June Lowery Kingston, Head of Unit, Directorate-General for Communications, Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission (the Commission), opened the event with some reflections on the recent progress made by the Commission on digital accessibility across the EU. Ms Lowery Kingston explained that the Commission is undergoing a review process of the application progress of the Directive made by Member States. The review is yet to be published, however there have been some positive findings so far in terms of success factors. For instance, several EU Member States have introduced legislation on digital accessibility for the first time and all EU Member States have transposed the law; making efforts to enhance accessibility as a result of the Directive. Nevertheless, accessibility is a process, and the review has highlighted areas for improvement.
Session 1 focused on ‘Celebration en Growth’ – the first panellist, Mr Alejandro Moledo, Deputy Driector and Head of Policy at EDF, discussed the alignment of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and the Web Accessibility Act (WAD). However, Mr Moledo stressed that there is still a long way to go with digital accessibility. Mr Moledo stated that if Member States want a meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities, they should provide the tools and resources to do so. Further, Mr Moledo continued, governments should have a clear plan to fund the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organsiations.
Ms Malin Rygg – Director of the Department the Authority for Universal Design of ICT at the Norwegian Digitalisation Agency (DigDir), provided a perspective from Norway, explaining that the WAD is not fully implemented there yet. Although, Norway is not part of the European Union, most EU-legislation is transposed into its national regulations, as part of the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association agreements.
The 3rd session on ‘Compliance status and motivation’, looked at compliance with the obligations under the WAD. In this session, monitoring agencies share best practices with subject matter experts and end user representatives. The vast majority of the websites and apps monitored have been found partially compliant with the Directive. To be fully compliant, no breach is allowed, which means that it is hard to measure continuous improvement.
The 4th session hosted a panel of standardisation experts, industry and end user representatives, who outlined current and upcoming requirements. The minimum requirements of the WAD are presented in Annex A of the EN301549 (a European standard for digital accessibility. It specifies requirements for information and communications technology to be accessible for people with disabilities). Many requirements are based on WCAG 2.1 AA (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – international standard, WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities), but there are also specific EN-requirements (harmonised European standards), that are less known. At the same time, both the EN301549 and a series of other European standards are going to be created or updated to align with the EAA.
Mr Loïc Martínez Normand, Adjunct Professor at the Computer Science School of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain, and expert in Spanish standardisation committees on ICT accessibility, highlighted the importance of real-time text and explained that, as of 2014, in Spain all ICT providing person-to-person voice communication, should also provide real time text. However, there have been a lot of changes in requirements related to real time text, for instance, in the current version of the WAD.
The 5th Session, on research and innovation, provided a brief outline of IAAP EU’s role in this regard. IAAP EU is engaged in various research projects, focusing on accessibility training, empowerment of end users with disabilities, and technological development. In this session, researchers, subject matter experts and end user representatives presented compelling results and discussed upcoming activities.
Prof. Dr. Gottfried Zimmermann, Stuttgart Media University, Germany, provided an outline of the Integration of Web Accessibility Courses in ICT Programmes (IWAC) project. It establishes a unique partnership between higher education institutions and the private sector, with the overarching goal of mainstreaming accessibility skills in higher education curricula for ICT disciplines.
Dr. Susanne Dirks, Institution of rehabilitation at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany, gave a presentation on the Upower project, funded under the Erasmus+ grant programme, which is about improving web accessibility and empowering people with disabilities based on the standards of the WAD.
Finally, Ms Magdalena Verseckas, Funding and Grants Officer at EDF, provided EDF’s perspective on this topic – Ms Verseckas touched on the importance of including people with disabilities on research teams, and that people with disabilities should be consulted from the beginning of the research, and included when the topic is being created.
This event on the Web Accessibility Directive, and web accessibility more broadly, run by IAAP and EDF, was very important for EUD to attend and participate in for a number of reasons. Persons with disabilities, including deaf persons, must have equal access to a fully digitalised world. At Member State, and indeed EU level, as the world becomes increasingly digitalised, it is crucial that the accessibility of information and communication through national sign languages for deaf persons is guaranteed to the same extent as information and communication through spoken language is ensured for hearing persons. Therefore, despite the many positive developments in the area of digital accessibility, a multitude of barriers for deaf persons remain.