EU Directive on the Accessibility of Public Sector Websites and Mobile Applications

Posted on Thursday, 26 April 2018 by Léonie Watson

The European Union (EU) Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications requires EU member states to make sure their websites and mobile apps meet common accessibility standards. The Directive will be transposed into the laws of each EU member state by September 23 2018.

The Directive uses the four principles of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, requiring that public sector organisations across the EU take steps to make sure their websites are “Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust”.

The Directive references EN 301 549 as the standard which will enable websites and apps to comply with the law. EN 301 549 is a set of Functional Accessibility requirements broken down into chapters, and chapter 9 on Web Content cites WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the expected standard.

The W3C is close to publishing WCAG 2.1, an update to WCAG 2.0 that introduces many Success Criteria (SC) focused on mobile apps, as well as SC relating to low vision and cognitive disability. The W3C anticipates that WCAG 2.1 will be released in June 2018, and EN 301 549 could be updated to include the new SC introduced in WCAG 2.1.

Once adopted into the laws of each EU member state, the Directive sets a timetable for compliance with the new regulations:

  • New public sector websites must conform by September 23 2019
  • All public sector websites by September 23 2020
  • All public sector mobile apps by June 23 2021

In order to comply with the Directive, public sector organisations will need to monitor the accessibility of their websites and mobile apps, make information from the monitoring available in an accessibility statement, and provide reports to a central authority. These requirements mean that many EU public sector organisations will need to rethink their accessibility strategy in the coming months if they are to be ready when the Directive comes into effect on September 23 2018.

About Léonie Watson

Léonie (@LeonieWatson) is Director of Developer Communications at TPG, co-chair of the W3C Web Platform Working Group working on HTML and Web Components, writer for Smashing magazine, SitePoint.com and Net magazine, and regular conference speaker.

Comments

  1. Hi Leonie,

    This is a nicely presented summary. Can I request for a short meeting/conversation with you. This may lead to a further invitation to contribute feedback into the legislative process of making UK public sector websites more accessible.

    As you may be aware, the Government Digital Service is working on the transposition of the EU Directive on public sector website accessibility into UK law.

    Sincerely,

    Tony

  2. Thanks Tony, it’s kind of you to say so. I’m happy to help if I can, and have sent you an email to continue the conversation.

  3. When the Directive is enacted into the laws of EU member states (in September), it will be compulsory for all public sector organisations to abide by it, yes.

    The laws won’t apply to private sector organisations themselves, but any websites or apps sold to public sector organisations will need to comply in order for the public sector organisation that is purchasing them to comply.

  4. Do you know if it will apply to internet based applications such as databases that public sector organisations either design themselves or buy in from private software suppliers? You could reply direct if that is ok.

    kind regards
    Jo Fullerton
    RNIB

  5. A database, as in a thing that stores data, would not be covered by the Directive. But if access to the database is done via a website, then that would be covered even if the website is hosted internally on an intranet.

    There are two exemptions noted in the Directive that may apply, depending on what the content of the database is used for: contents of intranets and extranets published before 23rd September 2019, and content that is considered archival (meaning it is kept for historical purposes but is no longer used or updated), are exempt.

  6. WCAG 2.1 has now been published. Does the EU directive now include WCAG 2.1?
    and can you define or explain what is meant by “public sector”? In other words, does the EU directive address more than local, provincial, and federal/country jurisdictions? Are there any directives or regulations in the works that address private or commercial web sites that will include WCAG 2.1?
    and finally, are the dates in the timetable about when the members states’s web sites must comply – meaning when the actual web sites must conform to the WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria?

  7. @Phil
    “WCAG 2.1 has now been published. Does the EU directive now include WCAG 2.1?”

    No, EN 301 549 has not yet been updated to use WCAG2.1. Since WCAG2.1 is backwards compatible with WCAG2.0 though, I’d recommend using WCAG2.1 as the basis for accessibility conformance going forward.

    “and can you define or explain what is meant by “public sector”? In other words, does the EU directive address more than local, provincial, and federal/country jurisdictions? Are there any directives or regulations in the works that address private or commercial web sites that will include WCAG 2.1?”

    This EU Directive is for typical public sector organisations (local authorities, government departments, etc.). I don’t know of any EU legislation in the works for the private sector, but in the UK the Equality Act already covers all sectors, and because it doesn’t cite a specific version of WCAG, I expect WCAG2.1 to become the default for cases being brought under that particular law.

    “and finally, are the dates in the timetable about when the members states’s web sites must comply – meaning when the actual web sites must conform to the WCAG 2.1 Success Criteria?”

    Technically still WCAG2.0, but yes. The dates are deadlines for compliance with EN 301 549. In other words, once the legislation is passed into national law on September 23, new websites must comply within 12 months, existing websites within 24 months, and mobile apps (new or existing) within 34 months.

  8. Hello Leonie
    On a related subject, what, if anything, is in place in the EU/UK to compel private sector websites/mobile apps to be accessible?
    Is it entirely based on the good intentions of the Private sector?
    Regards, Mark

  9. Mark, in the UK the Equality Act (2010) requires that services (digital and otherwise) are accessible to people with disabilities. It replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), which previously placed the same obligation on service providers.

  10. The EU Directive applies to the public sector, so where there is overlap between that and the transport industry, the timeline will apply, yes.

  11. What will happen if some of these countries doesn’t follow these requirements until the deadlines? Will have sanctions or something else?

  12. Eduardo, I don’t know what will happen, but it seems unlikely that sanctions would be applied to an EU member state if it failed to comply. I think it’s more likely that individuals will have the opportunity to take a public sector organisation to court if they fail to meet their obligations under the Directive.

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