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Legal basics for ICT Accessibility in Austria and in the European Union

Along with the advantages and opportunities that the information age brings with it is the danger that socially or technically disadvantaged groups of people and those with special needs will be excluded from using new media channels and technologies. This phenomenon is known as the "digital divide" that addresses the differences in the access to and use of information and communication technologies. To reduce the existing gap, among others, Web content should be made available in barrier-free form through adherence to the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Procedures with public authorities should be made easier through the use of easily accessible Internet services in particular for the elderly or people with disabilities by taking their special needs into consideration.

Accessibility on the EU Level

Web Accessibility Directive

On 3.12.2012, the EC submitted a draft for a web accessibility directive with which an approximation of the legal and administrative regulations of the Member States regarding barrier-free access to public websites and mobile applications. This aims to help the Member States to meet the national obligations with regard to a barrier-free web access and to implement the commitment of the Member States to the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People with regard to the websites of public organisations.

From a technical perspective, the fulfilment of the AA level of the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0” is deemed to be the yardstick. For this, a European standard (EN 301 549) was accepted.

Legal Framework in Austria

In keeping with EU-level requirements, the subject of accessibility to websites and services is addressed in the following legal frameworks:

Federal Constitution

Article 7 of the Constitution formulates the principle of equality and also lays down a specific ban on discrimination against handicapped people. It also expresses a common goal that it is the duty of law makers to ensure virtual equality for all. The Federal Government, the provinces and municipalities must ensure the equal treatment of all people, whether handicapped or not, in all areas of daily life.

However, it should be noted that the Federal Constitution does not make provision for any competence “disabled persons”.

Laws for the Equal Treatment of Disabled Persons

The Federal Act on Equal Treatment of Disabled Persons (Bundes-Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz, or BGStG) is an important step towards realising the requirements set down in the Constitution. It contains, amongst other provisions, a prohibition against discrimination and sets the criteria for what constitutes discrimination and states the legal consequences that result from it.

§6, Par. 5 of the Equal Treatment of Disabled Persons Act defines that technical equipment, information processing systems, and other aspects of life can only be considered accessible when they can be used normally by disabled persons without difficulty and without the need for help from others. The standard of measure for Web offerings is taken from the WAI guidelines.

The provisions of the BGStG apply pursuant to Section 2 Par. 1 for all areas of the federal administration (both as an organ of state authority carrier and in the area of administration in the private sector). Pursuant to Section 2 Par. 2, they also apply for legal relationships in the private sector, including their preparation and establishment and for the use or claiming of services outside of a legal relationship if it involves in each case the access to and supply with goods and services that are available to the general public and the direct regulation expertise of the federal government is given. This means that even non-official Web offerings must conform to these requirements. However, the decision whether a non-official site should be checked for conformity is handled on a case by case basis according to §6.

§9 of the BGStG provides for compensatory damages as legal consequences in discrimination cases. Claims must go through an arbitration process prior to being brought before the courts (§10, Par.2 BGStG).

eGovernment Act

§1, Par.3 of the eGovernment Act (E-GovG) defines the goal for implementing accessibility features in official websites for persons with disabilities. International standards on Web accessibility should be thereby conformed with and implemented. The need for action is even more urgent for government sites in which accessibility has not been implemented.

In the field of electronic delivery, §29, Par.7 of the Service of Documents Act states that the service of documents must be carried out in a way that ensures access to services by physically-impaired people using up-to-date technology.

Further Information