New EU directive approved
Last week, a new European Union directive was agreed to make government online services more inclusive for the elderly and people with disabilities. The directive states that public sector websites, mobile apps and videos shall be updated to become more accessible. In practical terms, this means that web developers and people creating content for the public sector will have to fix features that create barriers for users who may be blind, deaf or otherwise impaired.
Making content more accessible
Some of the necessary adjustments required to be made to websites or other digital content may include:
- The ability for the user to re-size text.
- Careful selection of text colours for improved visibility.
- Ensuring a website can be fully interpreted by screen reader software for the visually impaired.
- Adding ALT TEXT to images.
- Closed captioning (or another accessible alternative) for government videos.
- Live streamed government broadcasts would need to supply accessible video versions within 14 days of broadcast.
The journey into law
First proposed in 2012, the directive supports the EU Single Digital Market plan to make digital services more widely available. The directive must now be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. After which, the legal act will enter into force and member states will have 21 months in which to adopt it into their own legislation. Individual national governments may apply the directive “as is” to meet minimum standards, or they may choose to ratify even more rigorous requirements.
At present, 80 million people in the EU are affected by disability. This is set to rise to 120 million by 2020 as a result of an ageing population. Web technologies have become essential to accessing vital information today. Accessibility advocates argue that these adjustments are a human right. When you consider the mainstream popularity of online shopping, banking and other services, it becomes apparent that social inclusion and digital inclusion are one and the same.
EU lawmakers insist this directive is essential to ensure make certain that large groups of EU citizens are not excluded from society. Admittedly, there will be an initial cost attached to implementing the necessary changes. However, these will be naturally offset in the long term by cost savings over more labour-intensive or inefficient methods, such as posting letters or using call centres.
Brexit, best practice and future proofing
If the UK were to withdraw from the European Union, the pressing need to comply with this legislation is reduced. However, there are very good reasons right now to make sure your website and content library are accessible. Adding ALT TEXT to images and including captioning and transcripts on videos will be picked up more easily by search engines. Ultimately, this means the search engines will send extra traffic to your website, if you are compliant and your competitors aren’t.
Moreover, the directive’s author has suggested that such rules should eventually apply to private sector digital services. Governmental pressure aside, an ageing population of consumers with money to spend may eventually convince the private sector to improve its own level of web accessibility.
Wondering what this means for your business?
In or out of the EU, the internet could be shifting this way. If you’d like us to talk you through the web accessibility implications for your business, ring us on 01142 509 578 or drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a meeting today.