Strasbourg round-up: Accessibility of public sector bodies' websites

Shadow rapporteurs Vicente Miguel Garcés Ramón and Sabine Verheyen emphasise the importance of access to online information for people with disabilities.

Vicente Miguel Garcés Ramón is parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur for Accessibility of public sector bodies' websites

The directive aims to ensure accessibility to the content of web sites or managed by public entities exercising public functions sector are accessible to all users, including the group of people with disabilities, whether physical, mental, intellectual or sensory. This group is estimated to represent some 80 million people across the European Union.

A wide range of utilities that will help member states to fulfil their commitments for: energy, postal, electronic communication networks, transportation, banking and insurance products, education, social protection, health, child care and cultural activities and tourism.

With this policy, citizens will have a greater ability to fully integrate at the social and professional level, as well as the enjoyment of their right of access to information. The directive aims to eliminate barriers in the internal market, reducing fragmentation and increasing the confidence of providers and users. It is contemplated that the websites affected guarantee net neutrality and accessibility for free, also security in the transmission of information and protection of personal data.

The directive emphasises accessibility regardless of the device used, including mobile devices. The deadlines for the implementation of this directive are gradual. It should be applied in its entirety between one and three years from the date of its entry into force.

States shall provide rules on penalties applicable to ensure they are effective, proportionate and dissuasive, in case of default. We are laying the foundation for improving the quality of life, ensuring basic rights, especially vulnerable sections of the European population.

Sabine Verheyen is parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur for Accessibility of public sector bodies' websites

I support the commission proposal as inclusion is an important topic in the digital age. More and more public services are delivered online. [pullquote]Access to information online is only the first of many barriers that people with disabilities in particular face in their everyday lives[/pullquote].

The text adopted by parliament is an improvement of the original proposal and stresses that MEPs take the needs of elderly, blind and partially blind citizens seriously. However, even though more accessibility will reduce administrative costs of public sector bodies in the long term, one should take into account the current financial difficulties of many municipalities and cities in Europe. The directive should not be an additional financial and administrative burden for them. The new obligations should not lead to less public information online due to cost reasons. Therefore a balanced approach is needed.