New rules on website and app accessibility agreed

04-May-2016 @ 14:30

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New rules have been approved guaranteeing fuller access to the internet for people with disabilities.

Under the measures agreed by negotiators in Brussels, public sector bodies such as local councils, courts, public hospitals and the police must ensure their websites and mobile apps are accessible to all, especially the blind, partially sighted and hard of hearing.

This might mean enabling users to change the colour and size of text, incorporating a speech function to read out text and describe images and adding a facility to browse without a mouse.

Conservative MEP Vicky Ford, who took part in the negotiations with officials from the European Council and European Commission, described the rules as important and proportionate.

"The UK is already leading the way in this area and much of our good practice has been fed into the legislation," said Mrs Ford, MEP for Eastern England who chairs the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee.

"Being able to obtain information from websites and apps about key public services is a necessity of modern day life and we must spread the benefits of the Digital Single Market to all.

"It has been good to work with experts from the Royal National Institute for Blind People in the UK and representatives of those with visual impairments across Europe to understand better how smart use of technology can really help those with disabilities, and how frustrating it is when public websites are poorly designed."

The legislation includes an "on demand" process allowing individuals to ask for information to be provided in an accessible format. A separate clause prevents the measures becoming overly burdensome for individual organisations.

Meanwhile, countries have agreed to work with experts to develop technical standards for mobile apps to make them more accessible for the disabled.

The rules will now be formally approved by the European Parliament and the Council, after which Member States have 21 months to incorporate them into national legislation.

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