Web accessibility soon mandatory in Europe?

European Commission countries commit to "Internet for all" action plan, designed to help disadvantaged groups get online.

The 25 European Commission member states and nine accession countries have all signed up for a plan that could make accessibility in e-procurement mandatory.

The 34 countries all signed an agreement in Riga, Latvia, on Wednesday, committing themselves to the "Internet for all" action plan, designed to ensure that the most Web-disadvantaged groups can get online.

The EC has now pledged to increase broadband coverage across the continent to 90 percent by 2010. Rural areas are still underserved, according to the Commission, with about 60 percent penetration. Urban areas fare better and are already at the 90 percent mark.

The EC has also committed to putting new measures in place to halve exclusion rates in skills and digital literacy by 2010.

The question of accessibility for disabled people looms large in the EC's plan for inclusion, too. The Commission is studying the possible introduction of mandatory accessibility standards in public procurement, to be brought in by 2010. The EC is also considering legislation to improve e-accessibility.

According to recent research, 81 percent of Web sites in the United Kingdom are inaccessible to disabled people, while a separate report found that only 3 percent of European public-sector Web sites met W3C accessibility guidelines.

A representative of the Society of Information Technology Management (Socitm) said the United Kingdom has being doing its bit for accessibility.

"Local authorities are doing better than the private sector by far," the representative told Silicon.com. "It's something that sector is aware of and (is) taking action on, but it is a challenging issue."

Jo Best of Silicon.com reported from London.

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