Report finds official EU websites fail users with disabilities

19 Feb 2019

Image: © Hor/

New research from Siteimprove and the European Disability Forum shows that many EU member state websites are prohibitively difficult for people with disabilities to use.

Many people living with disabilities are unable to fully politically participate and access information on EU websites. According to a new report from Siteimprove and the European Disability Forum, 89pc of member states fail to meet EU Web Accessibility Directive requirements.

The EU has a web accessibility problem

Researchers analysed the accessibility of the official websites of the parliaments of EU member states, including the European Parliament website. The latter was the worst performer, scoring 55.8 out of a possible 100, while Ireland scored just 62.7pc.

There are clearly set rights from the UN around taking appropriate measures to ensure full and effective inclusion of people with disabilities in society. Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) sets accessibility requirements for state parties in terms of digital technology, while Article 21 highlights the state responsibility to facilitate freedom of expression and opinion through different forms of communication.

The EU itself adopted the Web Accessibility Directive in 2016 and member states are now obliged to ensure that all public sector bodies’ websites and mobile applications are accessible by 23 September 2020.

A poor result for the majority of sites

The research uncovers that 89.66pc of the member state parliament sites provide a poor accessibility experience, with only 6.89pc of sites providing an experience that can be classified as ‘good’.

Each parliament URL analysed by Siteimprove had, on average, 65 PDF files with web accessibility issues, including no alt text on images, a lack of reading order and a lack of text tagging. Only three of the 29 sites analysed score above the industry average for accessibility of 66.3.

Other issues include inaccessible forms, which can occur due to improper formatting of code and can see users stuck in an eternal loop trying to complete what should be a simple task.

Polish user Rafal Kanarek described using one of the websites as someone with a visual impairment: “I find the websites overloaded. Navigation with screen readers, a type of software that reads aloud the information on the page and allows us to interact with it, is not easy.

“Recently, I could not select the language of the website with the screen reader I was using (Jaws 12). Next to the language selector, I found an unlabelled button. Also, the documents in PDF are often not accessible for blind and partially sighted persons.”

Sites must comply with the Web Accessibility Directive

The European Disability Forum voiced concerns about the ability for people with disabilities to participate in civic life using these websites as they currently stand.

Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the forum, wrote: “As this report reveals, member states have a long way to go before they can demonstrate full compliance with the CRPD and the Web Accessibility Directive. It is disappointing to see such low standards of accessibility of member states’ parliaments’ websites.

“We are hopeful that the findings will encourage member states to swiftly meet the requirements set by the Web Accessibility Directive. The lack of accessible information on the websites of national parliaments seriously hinders the possibility of persons with disabilities to fully and effectively exercise their political rights.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects