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About the initiative

The European Parliament (EP) has mandated the Publications Office to carry out the “Reading disability and document access, a possible approach” pilot project. As pointed out in the introductory note of Mr Daniele Viotti, former Italian MEP, reading disability is one of the most common neurological conditions that affect European citizens. Public institutions must be accessible and transparent for everyone, including for the most vulnerable people. In recent years, EU institutions made efforts to improve the accessibility of their documents by establishing more user friendly publications and public websites. However, despite these efforts, access to relevant EU documents/publications remain problematic for people with reading disabilities.

In light of the provisions of “Directive (EU) 2016/2102 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies” , it is important to develop and make available appropriate instruments to ensure that people with reading disabilities have equal access to the documents/publications and websites of EU institutions.

Until 2019, one of the goals of the Publications Office (OP) Strategic Objective (SO 4) “Linked EU information, increased interoperability and federated search” is to enhance the accessibility of existing documents published by the different institutions. Consequently, ensuring that people with reading disabilities can access documents/publications and websites falls within the scope of this Strategic Objective (SO). Therefore, the implementation of this pilot project is entrusted to the OP.C.1 – OP Portal unit which was in charge of SO4.

The project is complementary with the accessibility projects for users with visual impairments managed by the B2/B3 units of the OP. The accessibility website managed by the B2/B3 units of the OP is available at https://op.europa.eu/en/web/accessibility.

The 16-month project consists of two phases:

  1. A comprehensive survey assessing the targeted audience, the targeted documents/publications and websites, and the relevant tools for enhancing accessibility for users with reading disabilities, mainly dyslexia.
  2. Proof of concept (PoC) by enhancing the accessibility of selected publications and websites.

The whole project tackles the following aspects:

  • Define and assess the needs of target user groups.
  • Research best practices and existing technologies, including the most recent developments in the area of artificial intelligence.
  • Provide guidelines and best practices for producers of information and facilitate accessibility and searchability of “reading disorder-friendly” documents/publications and websites for end-users.
  • Provide better access to a selection of official documents/publications and websites for people with reading disabilities by converting them to a suitable form, as defined by the outcomes of the study.
  • Estimate the effort and time needed by EU institutions, bodies, and agencies to modify (or replace) existing documents/publications, websites and document production workflows to achieve the targeted level of accessibility.

The aim of the proposed “Reading disability and document access, a possible approach” pilot project is to make the documents/publications and websites of the Commission and EU institutions more accessible for people with reading disabilities. It describes state-of-the-art best practices as a basis for recommending how to create a “reading disorder-friendly” environment for the publications and websites of EU institutions.

It focuses on existing documents/publications (for example PDF and ePub) and websites (which are mainly in HTML format) published by the European institutions.

First, the project seeks to define the targeted user groups (different levels and nature of disability) and to select a subset of documents/publications and websites of various European institutions in order to assess their accessibility.

Secondly, it identifies the technologies, tools, formats, layout, fonts (e.g., openDyslexia) and best practices that can be applied in an automatic or semi-automatic fashion to existing publications and websites.

A proof of concept based on selected documents/publications and websites demonstrate how the right tools can enhance accessibility.

Based on the project outcomes, the Publications Office proposes recommendations that the institutions could implement with regard to their documents/publications and websites.

Phase 1: A comprehensive study

The outcome of phase 1 of the RDDA project are presented in a consolidated manner in the “Reading disability and document access, a possible approach - Final study report” - https://op.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/801de94b-27c0-11eb-9d7e-01aa75ed71a1.

The first part of the comprehensive study identifies the targeted user groups, explaining the problems and needs of each audience.

The second part of the study assesses the level of accessibility of the documents/publications and websites of the Publications Office, European Commission and other European institutions for the target groups. It identifies a subset of documents/publications and websites that should be made available, with the first priority being to create a “reading disorder-friendly” environment for the European institutions. The relevant best practices, technologies, tools, and IT Software that could enhance accessibility are described for each type of document/publication and website.

The third part contains an assessment of current technologies, tools, formats, layout, fonts (e.g., openDyslexia), best practices, and IT software that could be used to make existing documents/publications (for example PDF and ePub) and existing websites (which are mainly in HTML format) more accessible. It describes the state-of-the-art accessibility solutions for users with reading disabilities, and provides full information on each tool: where to source it, cost, type of document to which it applies, fully automatic or semi-automatic implementable, and targeted audience.

The project team contacted European institutions, user associations, and civil society bodies to gather the most comprehensive information possible to conduct the study.

Finally, it proposes a roadmap for creating a “reading disorder-friendly” environment for EU institutions. It links the assessment of tools, publications/websites and targeted user groups in a comprehensive description of how to make the European institutions more accessible. It also proposes a work plan identifying “low-hanging fruits” to be exploited and a roadmap with milestones.

The study has been communicated to the selected European institutions that own the websites assessed in the study, to enable them to decide how to best leverage the contents. The outcomes of the study is made public so as to enable organisations in Europe to benefit from it.

The work carried out in phase 1 defines the scope of work for phase 2. In concrete terms, one of the deliverables of phase 1 is to define technical specifications, guidelines and a roadmap for identifying the documents/publications and websites that could be converted and made available to the target group.

Phase 2: Running a proof of concept

The activities of phase 2 of the project are described in the following paragraph.

Using all the results of phase 1 (study, handbook and roadmap), a subset of most recent documents/publications and websites is made more accessible using the best practices, technologies, tools and IT software identified by the study. As much as possible the modification of documents/publications and websites is undertaken using automatic or semi-automatic processes. As the budget allows, as many documents/publications and websites are enhanced for accessibility. Finally, an evaluation of the enhanced documents/publications and websites involving users with reading disability is carried out.

This website http://pocrdda.publications.europa.eu/ has been created in the scope of RDDA Phase 2 to host a subset to be made more accessible and the enhanced subset using software identified in phase 1.