Digital accessibility has become even more important due to the rapid growth of information and interactive services provided on the web and through mobile devices. Some examples are online banking and shopping, using public services online, communicating with our relatives and friends. The lack of accessibility contributes to the exclusion or partial exclusion of many people from society.
Making websites and apps more accessible results in an overall better user experience for everyone, not only for users with disabilities. Simple changes that make websites and apps more user-friendly can bring huge improvements for everyone. For instance, being able to listen to a text when there is not enough light to read or when multitasking, or reading subtitles to a video in a noisy environment. Accessibility also benefits businesses with economic gains, as they can reach a larger, mostly untapped customer base.
Web accessibility is not only about technical standards, web architecture and design. It is an issue of political will and of moral obligation, enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 9 of the Convention, to which the EU and its Member States are party, requires that appropriate measures are taken to ensure access for persons with disabilities, on equal basis with others, to information and communication technologies, including the Internet.
The Web Accessibility Directive
Directive (EU) 2016/2102, in force since 22 December 2016, will provide people with disabilities with better access to the websites and mobile apps of public services.
The rules laid down in the Directive reflect the Commission's ongoing work to build a social and inclusive European Union, where all Europeans can take a full and active part in the digital economy and society.
- covers websites and apps of public sector bodies, with a limited number of exceptions (e.g. broadcasters, live streaming);
- refers to specific standards to make websites and mobile apps more accessible. Such standards require for instance that there should be a text description for images, or that users are able to interact with a website without using a mouse, which can be difficult for some people with disabilities;
- requires the publication of an accessibility statement for each website and mobile app, describing the level of accessibility and indicating any content that is not accessible;
- calls for a feedback mechanism which the users can use to flag accessibility problems or to ask for the information contained in a non-accessible content;
- expects regular monitoring of public sector websites and apps by Member States, and that they report on the results of the monitoring. These reports have to be communicated to the Commission and to be made public for the first time by 23 December 2021.
The Directive comes along with the European Accessibility Act covering a wide number of products and services. Promoting digital inclusion, the European Union has taken measures in a variety of other areas including electronic communications, audio-visual media services, ebooks, eCommerce and ICT equipment. You can read the highlights on how these EU policies affect digital accessibility in the infographic on “Digital Economy and Society” legislation.
Implementation of the Web Accessibility Directive
In 2018, the European Commission adopted two implementing decisions ensuring uniform conditions for the implementation of the Directive:
- Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/1523 establishing a model accessibility statement, and
- Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/1524 establishing a monitoring methodology and the arrangements for reporting by Member States.
In the same year, the European Commission published an implementing decision on the harmonised standard for websites and mobile applications that provides for the presumption of conformity with the Directive. The current harmonised standard is EN 301 549 V2.1.2 (2018-08) PDF, that is in line with the most recent Web Content Accessibility Guidelines: WCAG 2.1.
The European Commission has set up the Web Accessibility Directive Expert Group (WADEX) to support the implementation of the Directive, to facilitate cooperation between Member States and stakeholders and to exchange best practices in the field of web accessibility.
Transposition of the Web Accessibility Directive
Member States had until 23 September 2018 to transpose the Directive into national law. The Commission is working with all of them to ensure a full and correct transposition of the Directive.
Support via financing of research and pilot projects
The Commission is providing financial support to research on web accessibility and accessible technology, and to the deployment of solutions.
Recent examples of projects in this area:
- WAI-Tools brings together key partners from industry, government and the research community to establish uniform accessibility testing rules.
- WADcher develops a platform for accessibility evaluation, monitoring and reporting.
- WAI-Guide designs educational programmes for web accessibility, produces guidance for authoring tools and addresses accessibility aspects of emerging technologies, such as immersive environments and the web of things.
- We4Authors facilitates the incorporation of accessibility features as the default option in authoring tools.
- Joint Statement by Vice-President Ansip and Commissioner Oettinger welcoming the adoption of the first EU-wide rules to make public sector websites and apps more accessible.
- European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, containing actions in several priority areas of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including web accessibility, with the objective to ensure accessibility to goods and services including public services and assistive devices for people with disabilities.