EU accessibility legislation: Keeping the public sector accessible

The EU directive on making the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies more accessible was adopted at the end of 2016 and is the very first piece of EU legislation on digital accessibility. It will benefit over 500 million European citizens, including an estimated 80 million Europeans living with a disability, by making digital content from the public sector across Europe more accessible.

Governments will have to check that public sector bodies consistently adhere to the accessibility standards and there will be a new enforcement procedure, making it easier for members of the public to complain about inaccessible content and get the situation resolved.

(For background information on the directive, read e-Access Bulletin’s coverage in previous issues at the following link: .)

This is a ‘minimum harmonisation’ directive, setting out minimum accessibility requirements for websites and mobile apps that all public sector bodies in all 28 EU member states must meet. Governments are able and encouraged to go above and beyond these minimum requirements.

– When will the directive come into force?

The directive has to be transposed into national law in all EU member states by September 23, 2018. All websites created after that date will have to be accessible by September 23, 2019. Existing websites will have to comply by September 23, 2020. All mobile applications will have to be accessible by June 23, 2021.

The directive applies to state, regional and local authorities, but also to bodies ‘governed by public law’ such as hospitals or universities. Importantly, governments can extend the accessibility requirements in the directive to private companies offering facilities and services to the public, such as transport, utilities, electronic communication services and postal services.

– Accessibility requirements and exemptions.

The European Commission will publish the technical specifications that public sector bodies will have to meet by December 23, 2018. In the meantime, the public sector will need to comply with clauses from an existing European standard on procuring accessible ICT.

The directive does not apply to websites and mobile applications of public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries.

Some types of content are temporarily excluded from the scope of the directive if they are not needed for administrative processes. Examples include: office file formats (such as PDF documents) published before September 23, 2018; pre-recorded time-based media (such as audio-only and video-only) if published before September 23, 2020; and the content of archived websites. However, public sector bodies will still have to make this content accessible on request.

Content of extranets and intranets published before September 23, 2019 is also excluded from the new accessibility directive, unless a substantial revision of the systems takes place.

Permanent exclusions to the directive include live, time-based media, plus online maps and mapping services (as long as essential information is provided, such as a postal address or information about nearby public transport). Other exclusions include some third-party content. For example, user-generated content, such as a photo without alternative text or a video without captions posted on a forum – these examples would both be exempt from the directive’s accessibility requirements, but the forum itself would have to be accessible.

The directive also includes a provision explaining that delivering accessibility requirements should not impose a “disproportionate burden” for public sector bodies. However, the right to invoke this principle is limited. For example, lack of priority, time or knowledge will not be accepted as legitimate reasons.

It is important to note that the requirements in this directive are in addition to accessibility requirements in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as requirements introduced by new EU legislation on public procurement in 2016. The latter of these makes accessibility a mandatory criterion for all public procurement intended for use by the general public, or staff of any contracting authority, and is a powerful lever to deliver more accessibility.

– Keeping updated and public feedback.

Governments will have to ensure that public sector bodies provide and regularly update a detailed, comprehensive and clear accessibility statement on their websites and mobile applications. Furthermore, a feedback mechanism will enable anyone to notify a public sector organisation if a website or mobile application is inaccessible, and to request accessible content instead. Public sector bodies will be required to give an “adequate response” to these notifications or requests “within a reasonable period of time,” as well as providing information about the enforcement procedure.

– Enforcement.

Governments have to ensure that there is an “adequate and effective enforcement procedure” for the directive – this will be defined at national level. Governments will also have to designate a national authority to monitor and enforce the new rules.

In many countries, such as the UK, going to court was, until now, the only way to seek a solution to inaccessible public sector digital content, and for most people, the cost of litigation was a barrier. The new enforcement procedure will give everyone an alternative, non-judicial avenue to seek a solution, by submitting complaints to a national authority.

Additionally, governments will have to promote and facilitate training programmes on website and mobile app accessibility for relevant stakeholders. Governments will also monitor compliance with the accessibility requirements in the directive. Experts are currently working with the European Commission to develop a monitoring methodology.

By Carine Marzin. via

Carine Marzin is a Consultant and Member of the European Disability Forum ICT Expert Group. 

Share this article!