1. What is the EU Web Accessibility Directive?
The EU Web Accessibility Directive is a piece of EU law that applies in all EU countries, as well as in countries of the European Economic Area. This Directive is often referred to as the ‘Web Directive’ or ‘Web Accessibility Directive’. Its full name is ‘Directive (EU) 2016/2102 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 October 2016 on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies’.
This directive aims to make public sector websites and mobile applications more accessible, and to harmonise standards within the EU, reducing barriers for developers of accessibility-related products and services and providing persons with disabilities with better access to online public services.
The directive requires public sector bodies to take the necessary measures to make their websites and mobile applications more accessible by making content ‘perceivable, operable, understandable and robust’.
The directive requires websites and apps of public sector to meet specific technical requirements set out in web accessibility standards.
The directive includes a limited number of exemptions.
The directive requires:
- an accessibility statement for each website and mobile app;
- a feedback mechanism so that users can flag accessibility problems or request access to inaccessible content;
- regular monitoring of public sector websites and apps by Member States and reporting on the results.
There is a detailed summary of the provisions in the Web Accessibility Directive on the European Commission’s website.
The full text of the Web Accessibility Directive is available in all EU languages. It was transposed into national law in all EU member states; you can check the full list of national transposition measures.
Three additional texts called ‘implementing decisions’ support the implementation of the directive; these texts are adopted by the European Commission and can be updated separately from the directive:
- Implementing Decision establishing a model accessibility statement
- Implementing Decision establishing a monitoring methodology and the arrangements for reporting by Member States
- Implementing Decision referencing the current harmonised standard for websites and mobile applications
3. What are the accessibility rights of persons with disabilities?
The rights of persons with disabilities are enshrined in the United Nations Convention for the right of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD).
Several articles in the UNCRPD relate to accessibility rights, including:
- Article 3 - General principles
- Article 4 - General obligations
- Article 9 - Accessibility
- Article 21 - Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information
The UNCRPD was ratified by the European Union, as well as all EU member states. They therefore committed to taking appropriate measures to:
- ensure access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to information and communication technologies and systems,
- develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public,
- promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet.
State Parties have also undertaken to refrain from engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the UNCRPD and to ensure that public authorities and institutions act in conformity with it.
In the EU, the Web Accessibility Directive sets out what public sector bodies must do to ensure that their websites and mobile applications are accessible. The European Commission provides more information about the Web Accessibility Directive on their website.
6. What is the European Accessibility Act and how does it relate to the Web Accessibility Directive?
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a new piece of EU law. Its objective is to remove accessibility barriers to a range of goods and services traded in the internal market. It will make it easier for persons with disabilities to find accessible products and services.
The EAA sets new EU-wide minimum accessibility requirements for a range of products and services. It is a directive, which means that it sets binding accessibility goals for EU Member States, who can decide how they achieve these goals.
The EAA is aligned with and complements other EU legislation tackling accessibility, such as the Web Accessibility Directive. While the Web Accessibility Directive applies to websites and apps of public sector bodies, the EAA applies to the private sector and covers a wider range of products and services, including websites and mobile applications.
The EAA came into force on 27 June 2019 and Member States had 3 years to transpose it into national law. This means that they were required to introduce new and/or update existing national legislation to comply with the EAA by June 2022. Businesses now have a maximum of 3 years to prepare as they will need to comply with the EAA by no later than June 2025, when it will be fully in force.
The products and services covered by the EAA include:
- computers and operating systems
- ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines, payment terminals
- TV equipment related to digital television services
- telephony services and related equipment
- the 112 EU emergency number
- audio-visual media services such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment
- services related to air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport
- banking services
With regards to websites and mobile applications, the EAA has the same accessibility requirements as the Web Accessibility Directive.
Find out more about the EAA in the European Disability Forum toolkit on the transposition of the EAA.
7. Where can I find a list of policies on web accessibility in different countries?
The EU Web Accessibility Directive was transposed into national law in all EU member states; you can check the full list of national transposition measures.
The Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) maintains a searchable database on disability-related national laws, policies, strategies and initiatives in EU Member States, candidate countries and other associated countries. Accessibility is one of eight topics monitored. The data is compiled by ANED’s independent country experts, under the guidance of the network’s Scientific Director, and updated periodically.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) maintains an international list of laws and policies in different countries. This is currently being updated and expanded through the WAI-CooP Project.
29. How is the Web Accessibility Directive enforced?
Member States have to ensure there is an ‘adequate and effective’ enforcement procedure enabling people to submit complaints to a national body responsible for the enforcement of the Web Accessibility Directive.
There are designated national enforcement bodies for the directive in all Member States.
Information about the enforcement procedure and the national enforcement body must be included in the accessibility statement.
The enforcement procedure should guarantee compliance with the directive’s accessibility requirements, an effective handling of notifications of inaccessible content or requests for accessible content received through the feedback mechanism and the review the 'disproportionate burden’ assessments carried out by public sector bodies.
This enforcement procedure is a nonjudicial procedure. Persons with disabilities also have the right to go to court to seek redress if they wish to do so.
30. What is the 'disproportionate burden' clause?
The Web Accessibility Directive states that delivering accessibility requirements should not impose a ‘disproportionate burden’ on public sector bodies.
In order to assess the extent to which complying with the accessibility requirements in the directive imposes a disproportionate burden, a public sector body must take account of relevant circumstances, including:
- its size, resources and nature
- the estimated costs and benefits for the public sector body in relation to the estimated benefits for persons with disabilities, taking into account the frequency and duration of use of the specific website or mobile application.
According to the directive, measures that would impose a disproportionate burden should be understood as measures that would impose an ‘excessive organisational or financial burden’ on a public sector body, or would ‘jeopardise the body's capacity to either fulfil its purpose or to publish information needed for or relevant to its tasks and services, while taking into account the likely resulting benefit or detriment for citizens, in particular persons with disabilities’.
Public sector bodies can carry out an initial assessment to decide whether complying with the accessibility requirements in the Web Accessibility Directive constitutes a ‘disproportionate burden’. Only legitimate reasons should be taken into account in any assessment of the extent to which the accessibility requirements cannot be met because they would impose a disproportionate burden. The Web Accessibility Directive states that ‘lack of priority, time or knowledge’ should not be considered legitimate reasons and that there should not be any legitimate reasons for not procuring or developing software systems to manage content on websites and mobile applications in an accessible manner, since sufficient and advisory techniques are available to make those systems meet the accessibility requirements in the directive.
If public sector bodies make use of the ‘disproportionate burden’ clause, they have to explain in the accessibility statement which parts of the accessibility requirements could not be complied with and provide accessible alternatives.
31. What are the exemptions in the Web Accessibility Directive?
There are several exemptions in the Web Accessibility Directive – some are temporary and some are permanent. Some exemptions restrict the scope of the directive and some exemptions focus on specific types of content.
Exemptions are listed in article 1 of the Web Accessibility Directive.
However, it is important to note that Member States can decide to not make use of exemptions.
Exemptions relating to the scope:
Websites and mobile applications of public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries, and of other bodies or their subsidiaries fulfilling a public service broadcasting remit. However, their websites and mobile applications are covered by the European Accessibility Act.
Websites and mobile applications of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that do not provide services that are essential to the public. There is no specific definition provided for ‘services that are essential to the public’ in the directive, only the following example ‘such as services that are not directly mandated by State, regional or local authorities’.
Websites and mobile application of NGOs that do not provide services that specifically address the needs of, or are meant for, persons with disabilities
Member States may also exclude websites and mobile applications of schools, kindergartens or nurseries, except for the content relating to essential online administrative functions.
Exemptions regarding specific types of content
Office file formats included in web pages: these are documents such as PDFs, Microsoft Office documents or their open source equivalents. Documents published before 23 September 2018 are excluded unless they are needed for active administrative processes relating to the tasks performed by the public sector body concerned.
Pre-recorded time-based media published before 23 September 2020.
Live time-based media. If such media is re-published later or kept on the website, then it will be considered pre-recorded time-based media and this should be made accessible after a period of time, usually after 14 days. The directive states that when it is ‘impossible to procure the relevant services in due time’, the 14-day period might exceptionally be extended to ‘the shortest time necessary to make the content accessible’. The directive also states that priority should be given to ‘essential information’ relating to the health, welfare and safety of the public.
Online maps and mapping services intended for navigational use (for example a map to find a public building) as long as essential information is provided in an accessible digital manner, such as postal address and nearby public transport stops. This should be provided in a form that is simple and readable for most users;
Third-party content that is 'neither funded nor developed by, nor under the control of the public sector body concerned'. The directive states that such content should not be used if it hinders or decreases the functionality of the public service offered on the website (or mobile application) concerned. Where the purpose of content of websites or mobile applications of public sector bodies is to hold consultations or to organise forum discussions, that content cannot be considered as third-party content and should therefore be accessible, except in the case of user-contributed content which is not under the control of the public sector body concerned;
Reproductions of items in heritage collections that cannot be made fully accessible for one of the following reasons: the incompatibility of accessibility requirements with the preservation of the item concerned or the authenticity of the reproduction, or the unavailability of automated and cost-efficient solutions that would easily extract the text of manuscripts (or other items in heritage collections) and transform it into content compatible with the accessibility requirements;
Content of extranets and intranets published before 23 September 2019, until such websites undergo a ‘substantial revision’.
Content of websites and mobile applications qualifying as 'archives', meaning that they only contain content that is neither needed for active administrative processes, or wasn't updated or edited after 23 September 2019.
Users can request access to content that is not accessible through the feedback mechanism available on the accessibility statement of the website or mobile application.
32. Can Member States go beyond the minimum requirements in the Web Accessibility Directive?
Yes, Member States may keep or introduce measures which go beyond the minimum requirements for accessibility of websites and mobile applications established by the Web Accessibility Directive as it is a ‘minimum harmonisation’ directive. This means that it only sets out the absolute minimum requirements that have to be met by public sector bodies for their websites and mobile applications.
If there are better provisions already in place in a Member State, these provisions do not have to be amended.
Governments can decide to implement new provisions that go beyond what is in the directive, for example they can chose a wider scope.
The directive also states that Member States should be encouraged to extend the application of the directive to private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public, including in the healthcare, childcare, social inclusion and social security areas, as well as in the transport sector and the electricity, gas, heat, water, electronic communication and postal services, and to maintain or introduce measures which go beyond the minimum requirements for accessibility of websites and mobile applications
33. What does the Web Accessibility Directive say about training and awareness-raising?
The Web Accessibility Directive states that Member States have to ‘promote and facilitate’ training programmes relating to the accessibility of websites and mobile applications for relevant stakeholders and staff of public sector bodies. These training programmes should be designed to train them how to create, manage and update the accessible content of websites and mobile applications.
Relevant stakeholders include organisations representing the interests of persons with disabilities, organisations of older people, as well as others, such as social partners or industry involved in the creation of accessibility software relating to websites and mobile applications.
Member States also have to take necessary measures to raise awareness of the accessibility requirements in the Web Accessibility Directive, of their benefits to users and owners of websites and mobile applications, and of the possibility of giving feedback in the case of any failure to comply with the requirements of the directive.
The directive states that Member States, in close cooperation with the Commission, should promote the use of authoring tools that allow better implementation of the accessibility requirements. Such promotion could take passive forms, such as publishing a list of compatible authoring tools, or active forms, such as the requirement to use compatible authoring tools or to fund their development.
When they report to the European Commission on their monitoring of the implementation of the Web Accessibility Directive, Member States have to provide information about training and awareness-raising activities.
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