‘Considering accessibility as part of the public procurement process is an absolute must’

Last week the world recognised Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which aims to draw the attention of all communities to digital accessibility.

Making technology accessible to all, especially in today’s digital era, is critical to ensuring every person can live an informed, content-rich and fulfilling life. But to truly promote digital inclusion, more consistent accessibility policies are needed across the board. Member states in the EU have an important opportunity to lead in this area and set accessibility standards globally.

Over the course of the next year, national governments in the EU will look to update their policies and public tender processes following the approval of a revised European Public Procurement Directive, which requires them to transpose the directive into national law. This is an important milestone in the European Commission’s efforts to allow for considerations such as innovation and accessibility to be taken into account when public contracts are awarded.

Considering accessibility as part of the public procurement process is an absolute must. A technology solution purchased should be one that meets stringent accessibility criteria and standards. The revised legislation rightly requires contracting authorities to lay down technical specifications that take into account accessibility criteria for people with disabilities or design for all users. Economic operators also risk exclusion from public contracts if they have proven to be unreliable in terms of accessibility.

Member states need not look far for guidance on implementing this legislation. Accessibility procurement standard EN 301 549 was published in March 2014 by European standards bodies for public sector procurement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) goods and services.

Pointing to this European standard would allow for accessibility requirements to be consistent from country to country and would be a win for ensuring interoperability and consistency in technological capabilities, leading the way for global harmonisation.

Some countries might be tempted to seize this opportunity for themselves and develop standards reflecting national concerns or specificities. This is a move they should resist. Only with consistent global standards can we ensure the most accessible experience for all individuals.

Leadership by EU governments in this area is all the more important in the face of the failure thus far to finalise legislation to ensure accessibility of public sector bodies' websites, or to ratify the Marrakesh treaty, which would facilitate access to published works for people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired.

Coming together to implement a uniform accessibility procurement standard would be a step by Europe in the right direction for people with disabilities everywhere.

Tracy Mitrano is the director of the Institute for Computer Policy and Law at Cornell University and an active participant in the dialogue on accessibility policy for a wide range of educational institutions

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