Edited by Andrej Savin and Jan Trzaskowski
Chapter 23: An analysis of the European Union’s law and policy relating to website accessibility
Equality of access to the Internet is essential in a fair and open European Union (EU). The debate on disabled people’s access to the Internet is strongly linked to that of the digital divide; the phenomenon by which unequal access to technology exacerbates existing socio-economic divides. In general, access to the Internet is a multi-faceted area that encompasses all its identified layers: physical, code and content. The provision of broadband to rural areas and investment in fibre-optic cables are examples of policies aimed at the physical layer which can increase the uptake of technology. Website accessibility, however, is a specific term that is used to apply to an individual’s ability, once a connection to the Internet has been achieved, to access and interact with the information. In order to enable this, the website or web-enabled platform needs to be designed in a way that supports both technology-facilitated access, for example, through the use of a screen reader, and direct access, through, for example, the presentation of text and colours. Due to restricted access affecting those who differ from an accepted norm, law and policy on website accessibility is strongly related to the rights of disabled people. Proponents of universal access,however, highlight the importance of flexible design in ensuring that the Internet is accessible to all. There are approximately 80 million disabled citizens of the EU and a further 87 million EU citizens over the age of 65 who could benefit from a more accessible Internet.
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