Making progress on web accessibility across Europe

On December 3, 2012 the European Commission (EC) announced a proposed directive on web accessibility. Just 3 days later, Microsoft joined with the European Disability Forum (EDF) to co-host a discussion in Brussels about how industry, government, and civil society can collectively start making real progress towards a more accessible web.

We believe that we have a great opportunity to make a more inclusive web and that we can do it most effectively by working together.

Making progress on web accessibility is critically important.

15% of European citizens of working age, or 80 million people, have a disability or some form of functional limitation.  Both that real number and the percentage will grow as the European population continues to age.  Today we live much of our life online and so websites are critically important to our daily life.  That is particularly true of public sector websites, which provide essential services for many citizens.  Citizens with impairments and disabilities must be able to access those e-government services and so government websites must be accessible.

The latest EC proposed directive is an important step.

In June, 2006 Microsoft participated in the Riga Ministerial meetings where European governments set the very ambitious goal of making 100% of public websites accessible by 2010.  At the time only 3% of public websites in Europe were accessible.  The goal was not met.  In fact, even today less than 10% of public sector websites in Europe are accessible.  This new EC proposal is a positive and important step.  Requiring that many types of public sector websites comply with international accessibility standards (e.g. ISO/IEC 40500) is a strong step forward.  The European Commission and national governments are showing leadership – both here in Europe and internationally.  Microsoft is committed to working with all European Institutions to make this new proposal an effective reality.

At Microsoft, we know we have an important role to play.

Microsoft will continue to be a strong partner with the European Commission and Civil Society as we move forward together to a more accessible web and a more inclusive society. That is why on December 6, 2012 we co-hosted with the EDF a serious discussion with European leaders about challenges and solutions for web accessibility in Europe. In addition to such partnerships, at Microsoft we are taking a variety of steps to support the drive to a more accessible web. We are a technology company, so of course, we support web accessibility through our products, like SharePoint – which is compliant with international web accessibility standards and which has many accessibility features that are being used by governments, NGOs, and companies around the world to make their websites into accessibility showcases.

We also have developed and make available numerous valuable resources to anyone interested in creating accessible websites. For example, in the United States we developed a guide for governments interested in the accessibility challenges of moving to social media and other e-Government strategies to engage their citizens. Because we know that good training of developers is a critical success factor for broader web accessibility, we have made publicly available the resources we use to train our own staff.

More specifically here in Europe, we developed a web accessibility handbook as the result of several dialogues across Europe. In it we examine the challenges to making more progress on web accessibility (for both governments and the private sector) and explore real, practical strategies for making progress. Also, just last summer our subsidiary in the Netherlands hosted the signing of the Schiphol Treaty. This unique agreement brings together several Dutch companies, including e.g. Microsoft, Rabobank, Essent, Schiphol Group, Vodafone, etc. to raise awareness about the need for an accessible internet and incite action and progress. The Minister of Internal Affairs (Minister Plasterk) sent a letter to Parliament on accessibility in which he mentions this initiative as one that combines realism with ambition for an accessible web and is worthy of greater collaboration.

These are just a few examples of our Microsoft commitment to web accessibility. We look forward to continued collaborations with governments, NGOs, and other companies as we to make an accessible web a reality here in Europe and around the world.

About the Author

Director of International Accessibility Policy, Microsoft

James Thurston is the Director of International Accessibility Policy at the Microsoft Corporation. As part of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group, he contributes to the company's efforts to make products and services accessible for consumers with disabilities and the aging. James Read more »