EN 301 549: The European Standard for Digital Accessibility

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The European standard for technology accessibility in the public sector is known as EN 301 549, and it’s an important set of guidelines for all entities to learn. These standards cover a wide range of disabilities and specify a number of barriers that may prevent a person from taking advantage of services. From paying taxes to applying for benefits, European information and communication technology (ICT) needs to be available to everyone.¹

EN 301 549 applies to all digital technology, including websites, software, electronic devices, and mobile apps. If there are any challenges preventing people with disabilities from accessing ICT, the public entity could be liable for violating EN 301 549 standards. The idea behind these regulations is to ensure uniformity in accessing all local or national public matters — whether a person lives on one side of the continent or the other. Any multinational corporation partnering with a European organization will need to comply with these standards.

Learn more about what makes these standards so important, and why it’s creating a ripple effect around the world.

The Compliance Timeline for EN 301 549

The following deadlines have been set for all European public entities:

  • Any new public website created on or after September 23, 2019 must comply
  • All public websites (including existing sites) must comply by September 23, 2020
  • All mobile apps in the public sector must comply by June 23, 2021

These standards were originally published in 2014 by the European Union Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications. Different countries may have set their own ICT regulations prior to EN 301 549, but the EU recognized that having one set of standards would enable the public to have the same experience regardless of what they did or where they traveled.²

The Directive had asked for all EU members to integrate these standards into law by September 23, 2018. (However, according to the EU Parliament, only a third of public sector websites comply with these standards, affecting up to 167 million EU citizens.)

Groundbreaking Standards

The ICT standards in the public sector are the first of their kind for improving digital accessibility across Europe. Since the standards were first published in 2014, they have since been updated via the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.

EN 301 549 was the byproduct of a collaboration between all three standardization groups in Europe, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), representing another groundbreaking achievement for the continent.

And, unlike most accessibility guidelines, EN 301 549 also touches on the concept of biometrics. From face recognition to fingerprints, people with disabilities can still access ICT that was designed to scan and read biological data. As biometric technology becomes more advanced, features like eye-pattern recognition for the disabled will become more integral to the ICT experience.

Standards for Public Procurement Help Wider Society

Thankfully, EN 301 549 does not clash with other accessibility standards that companies are required to follow. In fact, it was designed to keep as many of these standards in places as feasibly possible. This code references Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WGAC) frequently, drawing upon existing standards to create a comprehensive code. The standardization entities who collaborated on this project also took into consideration Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the US.

This harmonization makes it easier for corporations to partner with the public sector and vice versa. There will be fewer miscommunications when designing new technology or when quality testing each feature. More and more countries are taking into account international standards when it comes to regulating new technology. The more consistent the rules are, the more money and time everyone saves.

Companies who choose to make their ICT accessible prior to the compliance deadlines can use the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template® to report their efforts. This form officially notifies federal agencies that a business has taken steps to improve ICT for customers.4

How Public Access Helps Society

Accessibility compliance laws across major parts of the world are the key to encouraging worldwide accessibility for everyone. When ICT is required to be accessible, it also improves the quality of ICT products and services. The public sector may not be known for being particularly efficient, but EN 301 549 can have a major effect on the functionality of all mobile apps, websites, and software.³

EN 301 549 can also help businesses too, as it will open up products and services to new markets. When everyone can access technology, it can strengthen revenue and reveal new target demographics that businesses may not have considered. It may be why the vast majority of small- to medium-sized businesses favor EU standards for accessibility.

t wasn’t long after EN 301 549 debuted that other countries began releasing their own accessibility standards. Both Australia and the UK have essentially adopted the exact set of standards as their own. On a wider level, it brings people together and allows everyone to participate in the daily matters of society. On a smaller scale, it means a visually impaired person won’t have to worry about finding on-screen controls because they’ll have voice alternatives to manipulate the technology.

Accessibility in the Private Sector

While EN 301 549 may address the challenges in the public sector, it’s another sign of the raised expectations across all organizations. The European Accessibility Act is currently being designed to make as many goods and services available to those with disabilities. And while the act may not be able to address every barrier, it will require more effort from all organizations if they wish to remain compliant.5

From e-readers to ATMs, these regulations will incorporate a wide range of technology. Those who don’t comply may be denied lucrative partnerships with key organizations. It can limit international cooperation, which can ultimately hurt an organization’s reach.

EN 301 549 affects a wide variety of businesses and public organizations, even if the adoption of the standards is not perfectly uniform from one entity to another. However, those who can comply with these standards are in a better position to conduct international affairs without running into trouble.

Taking Action

Businesses may still have time before the deadlines for EN 301 549, but there’s no reason to delay. If you want to learn more about how you can wrestle your ICT into compliance, eSSENTIAL Accessibility can help. The digital accessibility standards for Europe follow the same structure as the latest version of WGAC, and WGAC is exactly where our expertise lies. We’re here to give you a comprehensive solution, so you meet all local, national, and international requirements. Get in touch with the eSSENTIAL Accessibility team any time to learn more.

References

  1. Directive (EU) 2016/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council EUR Lex, 2016
  2. Accessibility Requirements Suitable for Public Procurement of ICT Products and Services in Europe. ETSI, CEN & CENELEC, 2015
  3. Preface to: Guidance for the Application of the Accessibility Standard EN 301 549 for Procurers and Suppliers of ICT in SwedenPTS, 2016
  4. VPAT ITI, 2018
  5. European Accessibility Act: a big step on a long journey European Interest, March 2019

 

Editor’s Note: This post was updated in October 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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