By Ivanna Fitas
On October 26, 2016 Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies was adopted (hereinafter – Directive).
By September 23, 2018 the Directive supposed to be implemented to the national laws of Member States, which means all websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies launched after this time have to meet requirements of the Directive; those websites that were launched before October 23, 2018 supposed to be adapted till 2020.
Why this Directive is so grand for the websites and mobile applications accessibility provision? – With an adoption of this Directive considerable step was made as four principles of websites and mobile applications accessibility were named which set the vector for information technologies development. Those four principles are perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness.
Apart from the Directive, there is also a standard EN 301 549 V1.1.2 which defines accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT (information and communications technologies) products and services in Europe.
This standard aims to provide accessibility not only for people with sight or hearing disabilities but also for common users, making websites more convenient and easy to use. In other words, we can talk about interface, navigation, the logic of information placement on the website act.
For example, all non-textual material should have textual interpretation. Of course, this requirement has exceptions, one of those is all non-textual information that has only decorative purpose without any other meaning has no need to be interpreted textually.
In 2014 Ukrainian parliament ratified Association Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Ukraine, of the other part.
In Chapter 14 of the Agreement is adopted that The Parties shall step up cooperation on the development of the Information Society to benefit citizens and businesses through the widespread availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and through better quality of services at affordable prices. Article 391 proclaims that this cooperation shall cover the subject as a promotion of broadband access, improvement of network security and more widespread use of ICT by citizens, business and administrations by developing local content for the Internet and introducing online services, in particular, e-business, e- government, e-health, and e-learning.
Apart from this, Article 394 of the Agreement says the Parties shall promote gradual approximation to the EU law and regulatory framework in the sphere of information society and electronic communication.
By signing and ratifying this Agreement Ukraine took the obligation to harmonize its legislation to the legislation of EU, that’s why we can assume that the Directive should be also implemented to Ukrainian legislation.
Currently internet resources accessibility, websites mainly, regulates by bylaws in Ukraine.
With a Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Ruling from 2002 “On the Order of publication of information about the activities of executive bodies at the Internet” some norms which aimed to increase accessibility of websites for users, in particular for users with sight disabilities, were established.
First of all, it was enshrined to create Universal web portal of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (hereinafter – web portal), which aims for integration of the official websites of state executive bodies and for placing informational recourses accordingly with citizens’ needs.
This Ruling fixed that information that was published on the official websites of executive bodies and on the web portal should have protection against unauthorized modifications. This provision meets the principle of robustness, established in the Directive.
Also, particular standards for the interface of such a website were defined as well as requirements of accessibility to users with sight and hearing disabilities, foreigners and national minorities:
Also, some technical requirements for creation (modernization) of official websites in the scope of accessibility for users with sight and hearing disabilities were set up.
If to scroll the websites of state executive bodies you can notice that not each has an option of a foreign language translation, English at least. Also, if to analyze these websites through the criteria of accessibility for the people with sight and hearing disabilities it comes obvious that not all of them were adopted, and for those, which had been, there was no unified criteria to present the information. For example, on the website of the Ministry of economic development and trade of Ukraine user can choose letter’s size and color scheme meanwhile on the website of Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine user can pick only the letter’s size when the website of a Ministry of the internal affairs is not adopted for users with sight disabilities.
According with the Cabinet of Ministers’ Ruling from 2002 “On the measures to further ensure openness in the activities of executive authorities” the State Agency for science, innovation and informatization together with State Committee for television and radio broadcasting in three months term should agree on and post on their websites the order of executive bodies’ websites functioning; mention in this order requirements to the structure and design of websites, efficiency and form of information representation in official language and in other languages. State central executive authorities should provide the accessibility of the information posted on the official websites for users with sight and hearing disabilities accordingly with set requirements.
Requirements of this Ruling are not obligatory for municipal authorities and are considered only as recommendations. In spite of this factor, even existence of those or similar norms is positive for further advocating of citizens’ rights for ICT accessibility.
It’s necessary to mention that in 2003 Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine through its Ruling “On adoption of realization measures for a Concept of formation of the system of national electronic information resources” ordered to certain executive bodies to prepare recommendations on harmonization of national electronic information recourses with unified standards that are as well harmonized with international once.
In 2013 Cabinet of Ministers went further and in its Ruling “On adoption of the Order of management of Unified state portal of administrative services” not just clearly forested with adaptation of a web portal together with integrated systems of state and municipal authorities accessible for people with sight and hearing disabilities, but also detailed functional abilities of this portal and clearly wrote thesis that websites should be accessible not just for people with sight or hearing disabilities but be convenient and understandable for all citizens, by which a thesis of accessibility now covers all the users.
In 2017 with the Order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine the Concept of e-democracy development in Ukraine and plan on its realization were adopted.
This Concept clearly emphasized on the problem of accessibility and defined that the process of achieving its (the Concept) goal should be based on principle like ensuring simplicity, efficiency, and accessibility for users while embodying e-democracy instruments.
During the first stage of this Concept (2017-2018) accessibility provision of existing instruments and following this principle while creating new tools of e-democracy for people with disabilities, in particular with sensor disabilities (sight and hearing as well) supposed to be provided.
Among the ways of problem solving there is a rise of state public and municipal authorities’ willingness to use facilities of e-democracy which can be embodied through conducting studying, training, lections for all target groups as well as it’s important to provide ICT’s usability for disable people, in particular with sensor disabilities (sight and hearing as well).
Adoption of the Concept and plan on its realization is a grand step forward in a sphere of websites and ICT accessibility. As it can be noticed, the Concept is similar to the Directive. Despite creation of the plan on the Concept realization, it’s hard to see real actions form the Concept’s executors’ side, at least in 2017-2018.
Accessibility of municipal and executive authorities’ websites increases an involvement of citizens in active decision-making with local and national impact, redounds to form civil society and provides a possibility to form individual initiatives.
Of course, you can see adopted for people with sight disabilities central executive authorities’ websites or websites with a foreign language translation option, but not every and each website of public authorities is like that. There is no clarity and structure in their development and adaptation. The website will be used only when it’s understandable for a user, then he/she will use its benefits and perks. We should pay attention to the implementation of the accessibility of the public sector websites on the legislative level which will serve as a base for further development of accessibility on practice.