About Accessibility Standards
In the field of accessibility, national, European and international standards play an important role. These standards form a commonly agreed base of knowledge helping to understand the consequences of the reduced abilities and the characteristics of older persons and persons with disabilities, their needs and the resulting recommendations for products and services. Moreover, these standards provide ergonomic data for this specific user group as well as design methods and evaluation criteria. Finally, these standards promote compatibility of products and services, systems, environments and facilities and support the interoperability of mainstream solutions with assistive technology.
Real standards are developed by national, European or international standardisation organisations in accordance to a well defined process. Besides these official standards there are a lot of de-facto-standards which are developed and maintained by interest groups (e.g. the World Wide Web Consortium), industry consortia, single companies, etc. Also public authorities like the US Access Board provide rules for accessibility, which are called standards, but which are - from a formal point of view - no official standards. Another example is the "Technical Specification for Interoperability: Persons with reduce Mobility" for Trans European Railways developed by the European Railway Association (ERA).
Types of Accessibility Standards
ISO/IEC Guide 71:2001 = CEN/CLC Guide 6:2002, "Guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities" covers general qualitative requirements whereas ISO/TR 22411:2008, "Ergonomics data and guidelines for the application of ISO/IEC Guide 71 to products and services to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities" complements quantitative requirements following the same structure. This pair of documents can be seen as an answer to the "UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities" article 9 (point 2.a). These top level documents are also bridging the gap between ergonomic approaches like ISO/FDIS 26800 "Ergonomics - General approach, principles and concepts" and sector or product or technology specific accessibility standards like ISO 9241-20:2008 "Ergonomics of human-system interaction Part 20: Accessibility guidelines for information/communication technology (ICT) equipment and services" or ISO 9241-171:2008 "Ergonomics of human-system interaction Part 171: Guidance on software accessibility" or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or "PDF Accessibility guidelines" and many other documents (see Figure 5.1).
Figure 5.1: ISO/TR 22411 in relation to ISO/IEC Guide 71 and individual standards
Further general information on user needs, a standards inventory, and guidance on user needs mapping are available in ISO/IEC TR 29138:2009, "Information Technology - Accessibility considerations for people with disabilities", consisting of three parts:
- ISO/IEC TR 29138-1: "User needs summary"
- ISO/IEC TR 29138-2: "Standards inventory"
- ISO/IEC TR 29138-3: "Guidance on user needs mapping"
The HaptiMap project has developed a long list on accessibility related standards, guidelines, documents, training materials and background information.
Regulation and the Role of Accessibility Standards
As soon as accessibility is subject to regulation, as it is in most EU countries, standards are required to assess the fulfillment of regulated requirements. Where no standards are available which are officially published by a national standards body, regulators tend to "invent" their own accessibility rules. This bears the danger of reinventing the wheel, of creating incompatible and proprietary national approaches and of weakening well established (non standard) rules with the consequence of the fragmentation of the ICT market.
Prominent examples are the proposed new US Section 508 standards including rules for Web Accessibility or the German national web accessibility rules which are both mainly derived from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 published by the World Wide Web Consortium in 2008, but differ by adding new rules, dropping others and setting other priorities. This, in principle, requires as a consequence adaption in accessibility assessment and evaluation tools and methods. This is the reason why in European countries some twenty web accessibility schemes, methods and labels are known.
"Buy Accessible" is an approach, implemented in the US by the US "Rehabilitation Act, Section 508" (1998) and the respective US Access Board 508 standards (2008, under revision) first in the world. The idea is simple: All public authorities are forced to buy accessible ICT products and services only. The buying power of public authorities has an important impact on the accessibility of ICT products and services offered by industry.
Today all ICT companies, active on a global market, are familiar with the self declaration of the accessibility features of their products and services by using the "Voluntary Product Accessibility Template" (VPAT).
The European Approach to Improved Accessibility
The inclusion of the criterion "Accessibility" in public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe is the goal of the EU Mandate 376 "Standardisation mandate to CEN, CENELEC and ETSI in support of European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services in the ICT domain". Mandate 420 is a simular activity for the built environment. Both mandates are part of the "European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe ".
Phase II of mandate 376 started in Januar 2011. The three European Standardisation Organisations are currently working on the required accessibility standard, the modification of the European public procurement rules and criteria, an online toolkit and training materials for procuring authorities.
Information on the status of mandate 376 can be found at http://www.mandate376.eu.
In August 2011 the following 6 draft documents were published for public comments:
D1: Draft EN 301549 "European accessibility requirements for public procurement of ICT products and services", specifying the functional accessibility requirements applicable to ICT products and services
D2: Draft TR 101550 "Documents relevant to European accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services", listing the standards and specifications used for the requirements and tests in the EN
D3: Draft TR 101551 "Guidelines on accessibility award criteria for ICT products and services", providing guidelines for contract award criteria
D4: Draft TR "Guidance for the application of conformity assessment to European accessibility requirements for public procurement of ICT products and services"
D5: "Online Procurement Toolkit for accessible ICT products and services"
D6: "Additional guidance and support material for the procurement of accessible ICT products and services"
After an extensive discussion with all stakeholders the final documents are expected for October 2013.
The implementation of accessibility as a criterion in European public procurement by using one single set of European functional accessibility requirements will help to improve accessibility across Europe by a harmonized approach. With the national implementation this harmonized approach will substitute the diverse national rules and will avoid a fragmentation of the ICT market which will be beneficial for all parties: public authorities buying ICT products, companies selling the ICT products and, last but not least, end users using the products.
Ongoing International Standardization Work for Accessibility
Both documents ISO/IEC Guide 71 and ISO TR22411 are under revision. New versions are expected end 2012.
Siemens ACC is actively contributing to the ISO work.
ISO 9241-20, ISO 9241-171, and ISO/IEC TR 29138 are also under revision.
There are currently numerous accessibility related New Work Items on the way at ISO, ITU-T, and IEC. For example: IEC TC100 started the development of the document "Text-to-Speech Functionality for Television - General requirements" in May 2011 and ISO/TC 173/WG8 "Assistive products for persons with disability / Provisions and means for orientation of visually impaired persons in pedestrian areas" is working on wayfinding for blind persons.