Involving people with disabilities in the standardisation process

Chapter 5 - Implementation

When a standard is published there is no automatic requirement for organisations to adhere to it. Standards may be given legal force by being cited in legislation or in a formal contract. They are frequently used to complement European Union Directives, on the basis that conformity to a specified European standard will be regarded as demonstrating compliance with that part of the Directive. At a national level, a standard can be referred to in legislation as long as it is not seen as restricting competition within the European Community; in practice, this means that it must be identical to a European standard.

A particular example of legal force being given through contract is for a standard to be specified during a procurement process. Public sector procurement relies heavily on standards (European standards in the EU countries) because this ensures even-handedness in the technical specifications attached to contracts. The European Directive on Public Procurement also sets out a requirement for government procurement to consider accessibility, but the standards needed to implement this are still being written. However, some national governments have recommended a number of standards which national and local government departments should follow for procurement of ICT systems; in the UK, the recommended standards include some related to accessibility. In the EU, there is a procedure which enables public procurement bodies to use national standards if there is no European standard available. Another way to apply a standard is that it is included by an industry sector organisation in an agreed collection of standards to be followed for a specific product class or function.

Person in a wheelchair using a touch screen telephone

It is common for companies to state that they have followed certain standards without there being any formal verification process. One example of this is web accessibility. However, in other areas, particularly where there is a safety aspect, there may be a formal system of independent certification or self-certification for checking a product or service before it can be put into general use. It is also important to bear in mind that compliance with an accessibility standard or guideline does not imply that the offering can be called 'accessible'. It only means that it will be more accessible for many people than if the standard had not been followed.

All too often industry is unaware of the existence of standards relating to accessibility, and the disability organisations have not seen it as a priority to bring them to their attention and encourage adoption. Some disability organisations feel they should be paid to undertake this activity.

A problem can be the cost of purchasing copies of standards. Some organisations (ETSI, IETF, 3GPP and ITU) make their standards available free of charge while others (CEN, ISO) charge for copies. Some of the standards organisations charging for the standards provide committee and working group members with free copies of the relevant standards, but others make a charge even to the authors of the standard. It would be helpful for there to be a more consistent approach in this area and for there to be some agreement on the availability of standards in alternative formats, but Intellectual Property Rights considerations complicate the issue.

Last updated: 04.08.2009   © Copyright reserved    Website design: Digital Accessibility Team