Website accessibility has become an important topic in recent years as the internet plays an increasingly central role in daily life. An accessible website is one that can be easily used and navigated by all people, including those with disabilities such as visual, hearing, motor or cognitive impairments.
In many countries, laws and regulations now mandate that websites, especially those of public sector bodies and organizations, meet certain accessibility standards. But what is the situation regarding website accessibility in Austria? Is it a legal obligation or just good practice?
The Legal Situation in Austria
Austria has implemented the EU Web Accessibility Directive which came into force in September 2020. This directive requires that websites and mobile apps of public sector organizations comply with certain accessibility standards.
Specifically, websites need to meet the AA level criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 set by the W3C consortium. The public sector bodies include government ministries and agencies at federal, state and local level as well as organizations that provide public services in areas like transportation, healthcare, education etc.
The Austrian federal government has enacted the necessary legislation to adopt the EU directive into national law. The E-Government Act and accompanying ordinances lay out the web accessibility requirements for the public sector in Austria.
Private sector obligations
The legal requirements only apply directly to government and public sector services. However, the anti-discrimination laws in Austria such as the Federal Disability Act prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities by private companies.
Failure to create an accessible website could be construed as an example of such discrimination. But there is no specific legislation stipulating mandatory web accessibility standards for the private sector.
At the same time, following web accessibility best practices even without a legal obligation makes good business sense for private companies. An accessible website caters to a wider audience, improves search engine rankings and enhances brand reputation.
Benefits of Website Accessibility
Compliance with website accessibility standards offers numerous benefits for organizations:
- Expanded Audience Reach: An accessible website caters to a broader demographic, including individuals with disabilities, elderly users, and those using assistive technologies.
- Enhanced User Experience: Accessible websites offer a seamless and user-friendly experience, fostering engagement and satisfaction.
- Positive Brand Image: Demonstrating a commitment to inclusivity enhances an organization’s reputation and fosters a positive brand perception.
- Improved SEO: Many accessibility practices align with search engine optimization techniques, leading to improved visibility in search results.
- Mitigated Legal Risks: Proactively addressing accessibility concerns helps mitigate legal risks and potential liabilities.
Steps Toward Compliance
Ensuring website accessibility requires collaboration and commitment across various departments within an organization:
- Awareness and Education: Raise awareness among stakeholders about the importance of website accessibility and provide training on WCAG guidelines.
- Inclusive Design: Incorporate accessibility considerations from the outset of website development, advocating for a design that caters to diverse users.
- Regular Audits and Testing: Conduct routine accessibility audits and testing to identify and rectify barriers. Employ automated tools such as AllAccessible and manual checks.
- Alternative Text and Captions: Ensure images have descriptive alternative text and provide captions for multimedia content to ensure accessibility.
- Keyboard Navigation: Design websites to be navigable using a keyboard alone, addressing the needs of users who rely on keyboard input.
Austrian law does mandate web accessibility for government and public sector services but there is no direct legal requirement for private sector websites to comply with WCAG standards. However, private companies should still aim to make their websites as accessible as possible to avoid discrimination and provide a better user experience. Web accessibility in Austria remains an evolving issue and laws may extend to cover the private sector in the future.