A Tale of Two Initiatives

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Or 'why does little old Europe does not know what's going on within its own borders'? Dennis Kessler reveals all ...

Posted on: 28 August 2003

During the past few months, two new initiatives have been launched which could significantly affect everyone involved in website accessibility: EuroAccessibility and UKDeAN.

A new organisation called EuroAccessibility was launched at the end of April Comprising 23 European partner organisations (including the UK's RNIB and RNID) together with the W3C's WAI itself, the EuroAccessibility Project has some impressively ambitious aims:

  • In conjunction with WAI to develop an accessibility testing methodology based on the WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  • establish a European Web Accessibility certification authority for consultants and agencies, based on an agreed methodology
  • create an Accessible Website Quality Mark
  • develop a network of supporting services throughout Europe

People and agencies who already have sufficient knowledge to be furthering "the cause" of truly inclusive, standards-based design and good practices will welcome these developments. Charlatans, cowboys and snake-oil salespeople will not.

This is all well and good. However the EuroAccessibility website - which is curiously thin on content - doesn't give any indication of how these lofty goals will be achieved. And more interestingly, there's no mention at all of the European Commission's existing e-Accessibility initiative which is part of the e-Europe programme.

e-Europe was established in December 1999 by the European Commission to "bring benefits of the Information Society to all Europeans." The e-Europe programme works to an action plan every two or three years which is agreed by heads of state to implement e-Europe's goals. One of the threads in the e-Europe Action Plan is e-Accessibility, whose "action lines" include the following:

  1. Adoption of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines for public websites
  2. Publication of "Design-for-all" standards for accessibility of information technology products, in particular to improve the employability and social inclusion of people with special needs
  3. Establishment and networking of national centres of excellence in "design-for-all" (universal design approaches) and create recommendations for a European curriculum for designers and engineers.

Sound familiar? e-Accessibility received a boost when the European Commission declared 2003 to be European Year of People with Disabilities), thus putting website accessibility firmly on at least a few people's agendas.

The goal of the initiative is to boost social inclusion within Europe by promoting accessibility guidelines enabling the 37 million people with disabilities in the European Union and the growing numbers of older people to use the Internet (and related new technologies) more easily. And in April this year, the acronym soup we have to deal with was enriched with the establishment of "UKDeAN", the UK chapter of the "European Design-for-All and e-Accessibility Network" (EDeAN) by the City University's Centre for HCI Design under Helen Petrie (who is also undertaking the Formal Investigation into Website Accessibility for the Disability Rights Commission [DRC]).

Strangely, despite apparently seeking the same goals in the same region using the same approaches, EuroAccessibility.org and e-Accessibility/UKDeAN seem to be oblivious to each other's existence. None of the material either have produced mentions the other at all, let alone a suggestion of coordinating efforts and pooling resources. And both seem to enjoy the involvement of the WAI.

I will be delving further into the mysteries of these two apparently parallel initiatives in the coming weeks, contacting representatives of both the EuroAccessibility and UKDeAN/e-Accessibility programmes to unravel this curious duplication. Watch this space for the next gripping installment.

Dennis Kessler runs a consultancy called Rocket Surgery, and likes a good heckle at any given accessibility event. We look forward to part two of this article ...