February 18, 2016 

US and European Union FlagsThe commitment of the U.S. and the European Union to harmonize accessibility standards for information and communication technology (ICT) was honored at a recent international conference in Vienna, Austria. The Zero Project, whose mission is working for a world with zero barriers, organized the conference to showcase innovative policies and practices from across the globe to promote access to ICT and education for people with disabilities. It recognized the close collaboration between the U.S. Access Board and the European Commission on standardization of ICT accessibility as one of a dozen exemplary policies to advance inclusive education and ICT.

Over a decade ago, the Access Board and its federal partners began to coordinate and share information with European counterparts on standards for ICT accessibility to advance global consistency. These efforts focused on ICT standards the Board issued under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and those developed under a European Commission standardization request (Mandate 376).

  Photo of Martin Essl of the Essl Foundation, Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi, Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero of the European Commission, and Jakob von Uexküll, founder of the World Future Council.

Martin Essl, founder of the Essl Foundation (left) with (l-r) Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi, Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero of the European Commission, and Jakob von Uexküll, founder of the World Future Council. 

The Zero Project heralded this transatlantic cooperation as “exemplary in the areas of innovation, outcome and impact, and transferability, as it leads to harmonized ICT accessibility requirements and creates an enormous leverage for accessible technologies and wider markets.” It noted that standards for the web, electronic documents, software, and other communication tools are one of the most powerful means of promoting accessibility and that the “aligned standards remove ambiguity, streamline transatlantic trade in accessible ICT solutions, and create greater incentives for business to invest in new innovation.”

Access Board Executive Director David M. Capozzi and Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero of the European Commission attended the conference to accept this recognition and discuss their organizations’ harmonization efforts. They outlined the coordination and progress made throughout the development of the European Commission standards and the Board’s refresh of its 508 Standards.

“As a result of the good work between the U.S. and the European Commission, there are now two closely harmonized standards that benefit almost 140 million persons with disabilities across Europe and the U.S.,” Capozzi stated. “Having harmonized standards removes ambiguity, increases competition, and leads to better quality of accessibility features.” Calling attention to the challenges of maintaining consistency under separate update cycles, he noted that “an international standard may be the appropriate next step for a truly international approach to e-accessibility.”

The Zero Project, an initiative of the Essl Foundation, collects and shares model solutions for providing accessibility and inclusiveness for people with disabilities to advance implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Over 500 participants from 70 countries attended this year’s conference which focused on ICT solutions for promoting access to primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, vocational and educational training, and early childhood interventions. Further information on the Zero Project and the conference is available at zeroproject.org.