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European Public Sector Fails on Basic Web Accessibility

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from E-Access Bulletin, Issue 72, December 2005:

Just three percent of public sector websites in the European Union (EU) reach accepted minimum international standards of accessibility, according to United Kingdom government-funded research published last month.

The results were obtained by carrying out automated and manual checks on 436 public sector websites across all 25 member states of the EU (European Union). The checks were designed to show how well the sites measured up to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG,, that grade sites "A", "AA" or "AAA", in rising order of accessibility.

According to the research, only three percent reached "A" status, although a further 27 percent narrowly missed out, either because they passed all automated checks but failed a manual inspection, or failed a small number of automated checks. No sites were found to reach "AA" or "AAA" status.

"I had expected and hoped that governments were doing better," accessibility expert, Helen Petrie, Professor of Computer Science at the University of York, told E-Access Bulletin. "Such a low level of conformance is disappointing and shows that we have a mountain to climb."

The report, "eAccessibility of Public Sector Services in the European Union", (, was commissioned as part of the UK's presidency of the EU. It revealed that few member states know how well they are doing in the accessibility field: of the 25, only six felt able to estimate the proportion of their websites meeting "A" requirements, but all six were found to have overestimated.

The poor showing may partly be explained by the fact that the WCAG are not available in all EU languages. At present, the guidelines aren't available in the national languages of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia, Malta and Slovenia; and a number of other minority languages. Translations are in progress for the languages of Poland and the Slovak Republic.

Copyright 2005 Headstar Ltd.

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