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The vast majority of public service websites in Europe are failing to meet international e-accessibility standards.

That's according to a report released by the UK EU presidency, which shows that a mere 3 percent of public service websites are fully meeting the terms of the minimum accessibility requirements as stated by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines.

E-accessibility promotes the participation for all in the knowledge-based economy. With the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) quickly becoming an essential part of the economic, educational and social life of European citizens, there is growing concern about whether new ICT products and services are fully accessible, especially to elderly people and people with disabilities.

E-accessibility has been highlighted as a key priority by the European Commission in its "i2010: European Information Society 2010" initiative; for the next five years the Commission aims to promote an inclusive Information Society.

The latest estimates of internet usage in the European Union show that nearly 48.1 percent (222 million of the 460 million population) have access to the internet. Estimates also show that 39 million of the EU population are disabled and that by the year 2020 some 25 per cent of the population will be over 60.

The report surveyed 436 public sector websites, 70 per cent of which completely failed to meet one or more of the guidelines. A further 17 percent "marginally failed" to meet the minimum criteria, while an additional 10 per cent managed to meet some, but not all, of the international guidelines.

Most of the websites fell down in the area of providing suitable text alternatives for images on their sites, with a large number of websites also failing to fully explain the relationship between frames on a website.

In a bid to improve the poor performance of public sector websites, the report makes a number of recommendations, which include setting a clear target for making all public sector websites in the EU conform with all accessibility standards by 2010. The report also suggests the sharing of best practice and having a harmonised approach to e-accessibility across member states.

The survey was carried out by a partnership led by the Royal National Institute of the Blind and also comprising AbilityNet, Dublin City University and Socitm Insight supported by the Royal National Institute of the Deaf.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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