To EU governments: don't deny us the right to access web content!


Our governments are now negotiating with representatives of the European Parliament the content of a new EU directive which will define whether or not we will have equal access to web content in the future. As the organisation representing the interests of 30 million blind and partially sighted European citizens, we are calling on all EU Ministers to do the right thing and uphold our right to equal access to online content.

The vast majority of websites, web content and mobile apps remain inaccessible to us today. Those barriers may be invisible for most people but for us they are very real because they prevent us from doing online many of the things that everyone else takes for granted: shopping, registering a child at school; checking our electricity bill; paying our taxes; checking train timetables; making an appointment with our doctor; responding to a public consultation, and so on.

That's why we were pleased to see the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopt a strong text for an EU directive on web accessibility in February 2014 –at last, we thought, progress was on the horizon! In contrast we were shocked [1] to see how, over the last two years, most EU governments have actively tried to not only delay work on this directive, but also empty it of its meaningful content.

We raised our concerns repeatedly, both publicly and in meetings with ministers and officials, because we feel that there is now a unique opportunity to end discrimination in access to information and services for this generation, as well as the next generation of blind and partially sighted people.

Discussions are now taking place behind closed doors and representatives of EU governments, supported by the Dutch Presidency, will suggest amendments to their position. The most recent publicly available draft of the negotiation document [2] shows that our governments propose to include a long list of exemptions in the directive. If they are successful, blind and partially sighted people would not have access to a large amount of web content, including:

  • Intranets and extranets;
  • Live and pre-recorded time-based media (i.e. audio-only, video-only, audio-video, audio and/or video combined with interaction);
  • Existing downloadable documents;
  • Third party content incorporated in public sector bodies websites;
  • Websites held by public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries;
  • Websites of Non-governmental organisations;
  • Websites managed or edited directly by schools or kindergartens

These exclusions are simply unacceptable as they would prevent millions of disabled EU citizens from accessing the kind of digital content that everyone else now takes for granted. These exemptions would also affect our ability to get employment.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which the EU and its Member States have ratified, includes binding provisions on equal access to information and communications [3]

We want these provisions upheld.

We also want a directive that includes a strong enforcement mechanism and penalties for non-compliance.

We live in a digital era. We use smartphones. We also use apps because they are often the easiest and preferred way to access content, including for us. We welcome technological developments as they can give us more independence in our everyday lives. Online information and services can and should be made accessible to all.

Now is the time to make sure that this happens.

We are urging EU governments to listen to us [4] and work with us, our national members and our partner the European Disability Forum, to ensure an inclusive digital future for ALL citizens.

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