The European Web Accessibility Directive

March 29, 2019 BY ELISA LEWIS
Updated: July 2, 2021

Over 80 million people in the European Union (EU) are living with a disability. In an effort to create structural support, several large-scale accessibility efforts have been implemented in the EU over the last year. In the United States, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 were published in June 2018

, 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.

 More on the European Accessibility Act 📑 

What is the EU Web Accessibility Directive?

list on paperThe passage of the Web Accessibility Directive originally took place in 2016, but member states were offered ample time for implementation. The 15-page directive requires EU member states to make sure their websites and mobile apps meet common accessibility standards. Failure to comply with the directive may result in fines or other legal penalties, negative publicity, and quite possibly consumer backlash.

Generally speaking, if a website is operated by a public or governmental entity, it must comply with the EU Web Accessibility Directive. It’s important to note that each EU member state can adjust the scope of the directive, broadening it to include other sectors and industries as well.

The European Web Accessibility Directive outlines several high-level expectations for public websites and apps, including the responsibilities to:

  • Make website and mobile app content accessible to everyone
  • Provide a public accessibility statement
  • Provide a feedback mechanism for users to report inaccessible content
  • Provide a link to the enforcement procedure

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.

EU Web Accessibility Directive & WCAG: what’s the difference?

question marks

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 timeline for the EU Web Accessibility Directive

three papersImplementation 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

The new directive certainly brings about a large amount of work for many organizations. Learn more about getting started with captioning and audio description today!

Learn more about worldwide accessibility laws:


WCAG 2.0: Bringing web accessibility into the 21st century, with link to download the white paper


This blog was written for educational & general information purposes only, and does not constitute nor substitute specific, competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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