A brief explanation of the EU Accessibility Directive

Introduction

From September 2018, all public sector websites will need to conform to the new European accessibility directive. The directive has some exemptions, and provides additional time for some organisations to update their content and policies which I will detail below. So what is it, how does it affect you? Who is it aimed at? And what about Brexit? All these questions are answered in this post.


What is it?

The directive exists to ensure that all public sector organisations websites and apps are accessible, using existing accessibility standards. It aims to unify the standards throughout all EU member states, and requires that all members have a process in place for testing, and ensuring an on-going commitment to accessibility moving forward.


When does the EU directive take affect and what should I do?

All member states need to comply with the directive from September 2018. As the UK is still part of the EU by this date, it also means that UK public sector organisations should adopt the new directive. Using existing guidelines which form part of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), members should ensure that as much content as possible is accessible to all users of desktop and mobile devices, including website and app content respectively. Point 19 of the EU directive indicates this to include textual and none textual information, including downloadable forms and documents, identification and payment processes. Taken from section 19 of the directive: ‘EU Accessibility Directive ST_9389_2016_REV_1_EN’.


What if I add content which is inaccessible?

If content becomes inaccessible, or poses a significant barrier to accessibility resulting from an update and is available for the general public to view, suitable alternatives should be provided to resolve any potential access issue as part of reasonable adjustments. All websites should have an accessibility statement detailing how their offerings can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, and should list any limitations, such as items which are out of the control of the organisation.


Exemptions

A list of exemptions are included within the directive, to take in to account a variety of scenarios based on other factors which effect public sector organisations. An exemption in this instance means that at the moment, an organisation will not be required to comply, or an organisation will have more time to implement a solution based on their activity online. Point 22 of the directive does indicate that items which may currently be exempt, are subject to change if it is deemed possible to implement accessibility at a later date. In the same way as WCAG, all content should follow the same 4 principles which are:

    1. Perceivable, meaning that content should be displayed in a way that is easily navigated by all users on multiple devices.
      Operable, meaning that all content should be able to be displayed and interacted with by multiple users on a wide range of devices.
      Understandable, meaning that the content and user interface should be presented in a way which is easy to understand and use.
      Robust, meaning that all content and controls will work with a wide range of software including assistive technology.

  • What are the list of exemptions?

    There are several factors which mean that specific organisations may be exempt, however this depends on the operation of the organisation at the time of the legislation being adopted. The following are deemed as excempt as long as certain criteria are met. 1. Office documents, such as spreadsheets and PDFs, published before 23 September 2018; 2. Pre-recorded live video posted before 23 September 2020; 3. Live video (for example, a live press conference); 4. Online maps and mapping services, as long as there is an accessible version providing essential information for navigational purposes; 5. Third-party content which the public sector body has no control over; 6. Reproductions of items in heritage collections which are too fragile or expensive to digitise; 7. The contents of extranets and intranets published before 23 September 2019; 8. The content of web sites and apps which are considered archival, meaning they are not needed for active administrative purposes and are no longer updated or edited; 9. The web sites of schools, kindergartens, and nurseries, except for content pertaining to administrative functions. Taken from The Web Dev Law blog on the EU Accessibility Directive (external link). To view the Accessibility directive in full, visit The EU Accessibility Directive download page (external link).