Directive on Accessibility

July 17, 2016

On 18 July the EU Council formally approved the public sector web accessibility directive agreed with the European Parliament in May.

As the EU population ages, the number of people with a disability or age-related limitation is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020. By making digital products and services accessible to all users, the directive plays a crucial role in ensuring that all of us can fully participate in the digital society and economy. The EU Council press release states that this directive will greatly simplify the accessibility and use of services by disadvantaged people. You can read the text as it currently stands here.

‘We consider as essential the establishment of technical standards, the monitoring mechanism and the subsequent conformity check. I would like to congratulate the Dutch presidency for bringing this important initiative to a successful close’, said Slovak Deputy Prime Minister for Investments and the Information Society Peter Pellegrini.

The draft directive requires member states to ensure that public sector websites and mobile applications meet European accessibility standards. The rules will include, for example, guidelines on providing descriptions of non-textual content for persons with visual limitations, or on creating content that can be better presented across a range of devices. These requirements will make content more accessible and usable to a wider public, and will especially benefit people with various types of disabilities. 

The new rules will apply both to websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies. These include state, regional and local authorities, and bodies and associations serving the general interest that are governed by public law, such as an association of adjacent municipalities which organises joint waste management. 

The directive sets out minimum conditions, allowing member states to apply additional requirements to public sector websites and apps. They may also apply the requirements set out in the directive and/or additional ones to the websites and apps of other types of organisations. 

Under the Netherlands presidency, the scope of the directive has been extended to mobile applications, which are more popular than websites. The directive also covers extranets and intranets that are published after the new rules come into force and older ones that undergo substantial revision, allowing employees and students to access information that is essential in their daily lives. 

In order to strike a balance between accessibility and an undue burden on public sector bodies, the directive excludes certain types of content, such as third-party content (eg user-generated content in a twitter feed) and heritage collections held by libraries and museums. Live audio-visual media is likewise excluded, but if it is kept online after the live broadcast, it has to be made accessible. 

Moreover, the directive enables individuals to request specific information on demand if the content is inaccessible. This falls within a specially designed feedback system, which includes the obligation for public sector bodies to provide information on their compliance with the requirements. This accessibility statement must also include a link to a feedback mechanism, so that it is easy for any user to report compliance issues. 

To make sure that the rules are put into practice, Member States must monitor the conformity of their public sector websites and apps. An enforcement procedure will guarantee that requests and notifications receive a due response.

The text adopted today is the Council position at first reading. To complete the procedure, the Parliament must approve the text at its second reading.

The directive will enter into force twenty days after its publication in the EU Official Journal. This is expected to take place in the autumn.

Member States will then have 21 months to adopt national provisions to comply with the directive. New websites (websites published after the transposition) must be compliant one year later, older websites two years and mobile apps 33 months later.