People With Disabilities ‘Excluded’ from Web Services

by Rodolfo Cattani 20 March 2013

Many European with disabilities feel excluded from information services because two-thirds of websites are not accessible – and a legally binding solution to the problem is required, says the European Disability Forum

“I tried to access a government website that showed a short video on how elections work. I could not understand the video because there was no sign language version.”

“The internet is great but I cannot access my bank account online because it is too complicated to log on to the bank website.”

“On the radio, I heard an advertisement informing listeners of how to check electricity invoices online. I was interested and went to the mentioned website. However, it was a Flash animation and I am blind so my screen-reader could not read anything and I could not pay my bills online like anyone else.”

These are not imaginary examples showing lack of e-accessibility for persons with disabilities. These are ordinary, everyday experiences for Lars from Denmark, Helena from Poland, Stefan from Germany and all Europeans with disabilities, who see themselves being excluded from information services that are given for the rest of the European Union’s citizens.

Access to the information society, and information and communication technologies, is a fundamental right of all citizens and a condition for their active and full participation in society. In Europe, there are 80 million people with disabilities representing 15 per cent of the overall EU population and they cannot be left out.

The EU has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognises accessibility as a general principle ensuring the right of persons with disabilities to have access on an equal basis with others to all information and communication technologies, including the internet.

‘Web-accessible’ means a website or web-based service – including those designed for mobile devices – which is easy to browse, navigate, understand, operate, interact with and use safely, securely, independently, and with dignity by a person with a disability under all circumstances, including emergency cases.

Nevertheless, today two-thirds of public websites in Europe are still not accessible. The European disability movement has continuously campaigned for web accessibility to become a reality for persons with disabilities. Since 2011, we have run the Freedom of Movement Top Campaign. One of its objectives focuses on the adoption of a legally binding legislation covering the accessibility of public websites and websites providing services to the public.

Last December, the European Commission released a legislative proposal on the accessibility of public websites, addressing 12 specific public sector bodies’ websites, such as those for income tax declaration, job search services, education enrolment, health related services and so on. This is also part of the implementation of the commission’s commitment under the Digital Agenda to “ensure that public sector websites, and websites delivering basic services to citizens, are fully accessible by 2015”.

The European disability movement welcomes the proposal as a limited but first positive step towards the removal of all barriers to access internet products and services in the internal market; it is a good opportunity for the EU to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as a test of its real commitment to this aim.

Having analysed and scrutinised the commission’s proposal, we believe that if it really wants to ensure that access of its citizens with disabilities to public websites, changes are needed. This can be achieved only through a proposal with a wider scope and a binding enforcement mechanism.

We want to broaden scope of the proposal: we believe that the current scope of the proposal is too restrictive; it should include all public bodies’ websites providing services directly to the public, such as schools, universities, libraries, employment services, health care mutual services and public transport.

An enforcement mechanism should be introduced. We believe that without an effective enforcement mechanism and an efficient monitoring system involving persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, this proposal won’t be able to ensure the accessibility of the websites concerned.

And there should be an internal market approach. Web accessibility is beneficial not only for persons with disabilities, but also for the economy and the society in general. Indeed, the role of the market is among others social inclusion, equality, non-discrimination and social justice.

Rodolfo Cattani is an executive board member of the European Disability Forum, whose position on web accessibility is available at

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