Ensuring an inclusive society starts with the decisions we make. That’s why Microsoft is committed to providing organizations with the information they need to be able to select and use accessible technology. We recently published new conformance statements so that organizations have valuable details on how our products and services meet ETSI EN 301 549 (EN) – the European accessibility standard for public procurement.
With 80 million people in the EU currently living with disabilities, it is mission critical that the public sector fosters the use of accessible technology as a vital part of ensuring an inclusive society. When organizations such as governments and schools buy and use accessible technology, digital inclusion can thrive and doors are opened for people to expand their education, get jobs and access public services.
In December, we shared Microsoft’s support for a charter asking governments to increase digital inclusion by incorporating accessibility criteria into their procurement policies and using standards to evaluate accessibility during purchase decisions. By then, the European Commission had already issued a revised Procurement Directive mandating the creation of the EN accessibility standard.
The deadline for EU Member States to implement the Directive passed five months ago and a number are still in the process of developing their local policies and laws. However, some public entities are taking proactive steps to think about how they will comply with the new requirements and make their organizations and services more accessible. In the United Kingdom, the revenue and customs’ authority (HRMC) is asking technology suppliers to provide evidence of how they meet EN 301 549, while the Government Digital Service (GDS) has published a new “Technology Code of Practice” including EN 301 549 in their guidance on accessibility. These are awesome examples of the kinds of concrete steps that government organizations can take to start making their agencies more inclusive.
We know organizations need to be able to trust that their purchases can meet the needs of people with disabilities and that there is reliable documentation available to show how products meet the EN. For many years, we have developed technology with accessibility and compliance in mind for our public sector customers and others around the globe. Our latest commitment is to support our European customers by demonstrating how Microsoft products and services meet EN 301 549.
Our commitment to develop products and services that help provide an accessible user experience for a broad range of users starts with the Microsoft Accessibility Standard (MAS), which guides product development and testing for all business operations across Microsoft. MAS incorporates the EN along with other common global accessibility standards, including ISO/IEC 40500 (WCAG 2.0) and US Section 508 standards.
When government organizations and public institutions make award decisions with accessibility in mind, everyone benefits. While there is still a lot of work to be done in the area of accessible technology, with the right tools, organizations can ensure employees, including those with disabilities, and citizens alike can communicate, collaborate and access important content. For example, tools like the Accessibility Checker within Office for PCs (coming to Office for Mac and web by end of 2016) to make it easy for everyone to make their content accessible. With just the click of a button, the Checker will scan a document, spreadsheet or presentation to identify areas that may be problematic for users with disabilities and then highlight and explain accessibility issues so they can be fixed before the content is finalized and shared.
To demonstrate how our products and services meet the EN, Microsoft provides customers with a self-declaration of conformance. These reports are available on our public website, so customers evaluating their procurement option can easily compare how we comply with the EN’s individual requirements. And our new enterprise Disability Answer Desk provides dedicated support to our enterprise customers who have questions about accessibility within Microsoft’s products and services or compliance reports. We’ve also developed guidelines on how to integrate accessibility criteria into procurement processes. These include requesting detailed EN 301 549 conformance statements from ICT providers, comparing the level of performance by end user impact, and applying appropriate weight to award decisions based on end user impact.
And while Europe leads the way, the EN 301 549 is gaining international recognition. Only last month, it was announced that Australia will adopt the European standard, becoming the first country outside of Europe to do so.
More progress is needed. We welcome your feedback and will keep working hard to ensure that our products comply with emerging global standards and meet the needs of all people. At the same time, we encourage more organizations to embrace the EN and stand ready to support our public sector customers as they work to successfully implement new requirements.