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Call for law to improve websites for disabled

A pan-European e-accessibility law would prevent fragmentary approaches to providing products and services to disabled people, according to Viviane Reding
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

European information commissioner Viviane Reding has proposed a pan-European law that would ensure website accessibility for disabled people.

Reding said in a speech on Thursday that a potential 'European Disability Act' should ensure European approaches to e-accessibility are not fragmented.

"Each member state is going its own way," Reding said. "We have to consider that this is costly for industry because they have to respond to a wide range of fragmented national standards. It also leaves disabled people without a consistent level of service that they can expect."

Reding added that World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), should be adopted by websites on a pan-European scale.

Struan Robertson, a senior associate at Pinsent Masons solicitors, told ZDNet UK on Friday that e-accessibility in the UK is already a legal obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act. However, Robertson added that this was not well-known among businesses.

"At the moment, despite the law being in force, the proportion of highly accessible websites is poor," said Robertson. "If there were a directive, this would raise the profile of a massive problem that has to be addressed."

Robertson said companies should, as a first step, consider commissioning user testing by disabled users. "The company could ask a blind person to try to make a purchase from the site, or find a piece of information from a brochure," he said.

Companies wishing to overhaul the e-accessibility of their sites could go to the WCAG, Robertson added. "In terms of technical standards, the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are an effective blueprint in making a site accessible," he said.

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