The European Web Accessibility Directive

There are 80 million people across the European Union (EU) living with a disability. Several large-scale accessibility efforts have been implemented in the EU over the last year, as part of an ongoing effort to address and prioritize accessibility for these individuals, as well as the many others who will benefit.

It was a major milestone when the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) were published in June 2018. The updated WCAG 2.1 was followed shortly after that with the first implementation deadline of the EU Web Accessibility Directive in September 2018. Most recently, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) was approved and will be most impactful for individuals with disabilities as well as the elderly in the European Union.

Public v. Private Sector Requirements

While the Directive specifically applies to public-sector websites and apps, it still has a profound impact on private companies as well. Organizations that regularly do business with or provide products or services to governmental sites will need to have their standards up to par. These private-sector companies may also face greater competition, or even lose users with disabilities if their websites or apps are inaccessible and provide a comparably less accessible experience than their public-sector competitors.

European Web Accessibility Directive v. WCAG: What’s The Difference?

The core of the EU Web Accessibility Directive is very similar to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.  the Directive uses the four principles of WCAG 2.0, requiring that public sector websites across EU member states are “Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.”

You may be wondering why the Directive was necessary if it’s so similar to the already existing WCAG. The answer can be summed up in one word: enforcement. WCAG 2.0 (and the updated WCAG 2.1) are sets of guidelines. While they have an incredibly significant and extensive impact, they are not legally enforceable on their own. Weaving the principles of WCAG into the Web Accessibility Directive, allows the European Union to turn these into official legal requirements that its member states must abide. Even though member states can make adjustments, the Directive is a positive step toward creating and implementing uniform rules for online accessibility across the European Union.

Implementation and Timeline for the European Web Accessibility Directive

Implementation of the Directive is well underway. As we look ahead to compliance deadlines, there are several dates to keep in mind.

  • September 23, 2019: All new websites (published after September 23, 2018) must be in compliance

  • September 23, 2020: Older sites (published before September 23, 2018) must be in compliance

  • June 23, 2021: Mobile applications must be in compliance

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