An Attempt to Demystify the European Accessibility Directives

Ritesh Chopra May 7, 2020
The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn/unlearn and adapt to evolving surroundings. Think, the above quote is more relevant in today’s time than ever before. Educators across the world are continuously working tirelessly to spread the only positive thing –learning and somehow blunting the spread of ghoulish virus globally. The current times had people with disabilities with a disproportionate impact largely in all spheres of life but more so in humanity’s fundamental pursuit of basic education. Below is the official data by EU: “One in six people in the European Union (EU) has a disability that ranges from mild to severe making around 80 million who are often prevented from taking part fully in society and the economy because of environmental and attitudinal barriers”. For *Differently abled people the rate of poverty is 70% higher than the average partly due to limited access to education and employment. * In respect of equality, I would like to use Differently abled people in lieu of disabled people. The much-awaited Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) was published in June 2018, representing the most far-reaching overhaul of accessibility standards to date. EU did unroll their Web Accessibility Directive in 2016 which marked the EU’s most comprehensive accessibility effort to date, the implementation data was being released very close to 2.1 specs. Below is the Compliance phase deadline for EU website accessibility directives:    Here are some FAQ’s which I’ve personally often stumble upon:  
Does WCAG differ from EU Web Accessibility Directive?
The core of the EU directions is essentially, WCAG 2.0. This directive does not independently include any of the rules that websites and apps need to comply with, for actual regulations Standard EN 301 549 of the Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit is being referred, which itself refers to WCAG 2.1 standards for further clarification.  
So if the underlying rules are identical, why are both necessary?
Typically, it zeroes down to enforcement. WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are sets of guidelines laid out by the World Wide Web Consortium—these are elaborate, though these do not legally bind or enforce the compliance, and by encapsulating the WCAG in the Web Accessibility Directive, the European Union is officially requiring its member states to adhere to WCAG. Also, each member state is an independent entity and will be free to stitch the relevant penalties on non-compliance, this directive does help create a uniform framework and rules for online accessibility in the European Union.
Could we help define EN 301 549?
EN 301 549 is an accessibility standard that covers all ICT, this includes almost all digital products you can think of, desktops, mobiles, printers, electronic documents, software, web content, and more. EN 301 549 are technical requirements for digital accessibility. The part of EN 301 549 that covers the web is actually WCAG version 2.1. In principal it does cover both online and offline documents as the universal law of equality applies to all forms of electronic documents. All offline documents also follow WCAG using a W3C working group note called “WCAG2ICT.” It was introduced technically as a Voluntary law but the introduction of EAA ( European accessibility act) changed that. As the contours between the areas of software, web, and content are getting blurred, we have more unified requirements that apply to all content types.  
What is EAA ( European Accessibility Act)?
It’s a directive that aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, In common parlance, this EU law may be mapped to ADA in the US. The EAA is applicable to:
  •     Computers and operating systems
  •     Telephone services and related equipment
  •     Audiovisual media services, such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment
  •     Services related to air, bus, rail, and other passenger transport
  •     Banking services
  •     E-books
What is meant by “public sector” as per the directives, In other words, does the EU directive address more than local, provincial, and federal/country jurisdictions?
This EU Directive is for typical public sector organizations (local authorities, government departments, etc.). I’m not sure of any EU legislation which is in the making for the private sector, but in the UK the Equality Act anyways covers all sectors.  
Is there a provision in the EU/UK to compel private sector websites/mobile apps to comply with accessibility?
In the UK the Equality Act (2010) requires that services (digital and otherwise) are accessible to people with disabilities. It replaced the Disability Discrimination Act (1995).  
WCAG 2.1 has been published. Does the EU directive now include WCAG 2.1?
EN 301 549 has been updated to use WCAG2.1. Since WCAG2.1 is backward compatible with WCAG2.0, I recommend complying to WCAG 2.1 going forward. Accessibility Tools: There are a variety of tools available for compliance, though accessibility as a service does require manual tinkering to evaluate and chart out the apt solution. Magicedtech also uses a lot of third-party tools and also continues to invest significantly in this area for a long time, Magic has launched the updated version of its #AI #powered #automated #accessibility testing tool #MagicA11y for #EdTech products. The tool gives accurate test results against #40% of the #WCAG guidelines. This is enabling our customers optimize efficiency and enhance coverage with more affordable options of #education content. It also provides a quick snapshot of compliance health. Do reach out to us at  “” for a free sample.At Magic, we provide #Consulting #services along with detailed recommendations on accessibility and learning solutions.

Ritesh Chopra

Heads the interactive content production practice at Magic Software. His endeavor is to create engaging and immersive learning experience to make learning more fun, enriching and effective.