The internet is an essential way to access and provide information and services. Web accessibility allows everyone, including people with disabilities, to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the Internet. The same vision of accessibility should apply to mobile apps, considering the developments in technology and trends in the last years.

While there is a good deal of overlap between the EU Web Accessibility Directive and WCAG, it is worth exploring what sets the two initiatives apart, as well as the implications for both public and private organizations.

The EU Web Accessibility Directive was born out of an ongoing effort to comprehensively address accessibility issues across the European Union. Starting in the early 2000s and carrying into initiatives such as 2010’s European Disability Strategy and the Mandate 376 Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit, the EU’s governing bodies have been among the global leaders in creative, functional approaches to providing equal online access for users of all abilities.

How is the EU Web Accessibility Directive different from WCAG?

The core of the Web Accessibility Directive is, essentially, WCAG 2.0. The directive itself does not actually include any of the rules that websites and apps need to follow to stay in compliance. To find the actual regulations, readers are referred to Standard EN 301 549 of the Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit, which itself refers to WCAG 2.1 standards for further clarification.

So if the underlying rules are identical, why are both measures necessary? It basically boils down to enforcement. WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are sets of guidelines laid out by the World Wide Web Consortium—highly influential but not legally enforceable on their own. By enshrining the principles of WCAG in the Web Accessibility Directive, the European Union is officially requiring its member states to abide by WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. It isn’t exactly one-size-fits-all legislation, as each member state will still determine the penalties for failure to comply, but the directive goes a long way toward establishing uniform rules for online accessibility in the EU.

What does the directive require?

The specifics of the Web Accessibility Directive are laid out at great length in the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, but the directive itself does include some fairly high-level expectations for public websites and apps, including the responsibilities to:

  1. Make the website and mobile app content accessible to everyone
  2. Provide a public accessibility statement
  3. Provide a feedback mechanism for users to report inaccessible content
  4. Provide a link to the enforcement procedure

There are also a few categories of content not subject to the rules, including most time-based media (generally audio and video content), mapping services, third-party content, and content located on extranet and internet websites published before the cutoff of September 23, 2019.

Compliance phase

Establishes deadlines for full EU Website Accessibility Directive compliance:

  1. New websites (published after September 23, 2018): Effective September 23, 2019
  2. Older websites (published before September 23, 2018): Effective September 23, 2020
  3. Mobile applications: Effective June 23, 2021

Even for organizations that have taken a proactive approach to online accessibility, the onset of the new directive likely represents a good deal of work, and this article provides only a bare overview of all the requirements for compliance. For a more thorough overview of the EU Web Accessibility Directive, please download our white paper on the topic. The road to accessibility may not be an easy one, but the European Union’s efforts at establishing comprehensive equal access for all member states should lead to a more usable and welcoming internet for people of all abilities.