In 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which came into force on the 3rd of May 2008. The goal of the resolution is to protect and support the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. It aspires towards building a more inclusive society in which both disabled and non-people with disabilities are equal, self-determining participants in their own communities. A number of UN member states, including Germany and Austria, have already ratified the agreement. In doing so, they have pledged to enshrine the Convention in national law and introduce political measures to implement it in practice. Article 21 of the Convention, “Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information” refers to equal access to information. This means that information intended for the general public should be made available for people with a range of disabilities as soon as possible, using accessible formats and technology.
The European Union introduced concrete measures in the form of “The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020: A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe”. As part of this strategy, the European Commission is working towards a modernised European public procurement law, under which ICT products and services provided by European and national authorities must be barrier-free as defined by EU standard EN 301549, which is expected to be published in 2014. The three standardisation organisations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI have developed a draft of this standard and guidelines for implementing it, based on Mandate 376.
The European Commission is also preparing a single European accessibility law which will require ICT to play a significant role. Publication of the first draft is expected at some point in Summer 2013. This law should harmonise the current range of national laws among EU member states, some of which differ dramatically from one another.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons came into force for Germany on the 26th of March 2009. Germany responded with a national action plan, where the federal government presented a number of measures aimed at paving the way towards a more inclusive society. In part, this path makes use of existing laws and regulations. For example, Germany has had a Federal Law on the Equal Treatment of Disabled Persons (Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz or BGG) since 2002. Section 11 of the law requires federal authorities to offer all information and documents in a universally-accessible format. The minimum requirements for meeting this regulation are described in the Regulation for Accessible IT (Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung or BITV). It was updated to version 2.0 in 2011 and now mostly reflects the requirements of WCAG 2.0. Individual German states also have state equality laws based on the federal disability equality law.
Legal implementation of these laws and regulations has until now left rather a lot to be desired; a number of federal and state authorities have significant room for improvement in terms of the accessibility of their offerings. The aforementioned EU laws and regulations are expected to improve this situation, once adopted in the near future.
The United States’ Rehabilitation Act goes one step further in that it allows private legal action which can lead to very high compensation claims. This law was expanded in 1998 with Section 508, which for the first time in the world placed a legal requirement on authorities to make their ICT offerings accessible and usable for people with disabilities.