International Web Accessibility Laws and Policies

Web or Digital Accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring everyone can access web content. It is ensuring websites and applications are correctly designed, developed, and edited to be accessible to everyone and can be operated by anyone. This is so that all users have equal access to information and functionality and websites are expressed in a robust way to work with a variety of assistive technology used by people with impairments to access the web content.

Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web and web content, including users with

  • Visual impairments – web content must be comfortable for screen readers or provide a braille alternative.
  • Motor/mobility or dexterity impairments –  web content must permit keyboard-only access and be compatible with speech recognition software.
  • Hearing impairments – websites should consider a visual alternative such as subtitles or sign language.
  • Cognitive and intellectual impairments – websites should provide accommodations for zooming and be compatible with screen magnification software.

International Web Accessibility Guideline – WCAG

Out of its commitment to making the web inclusive by promoting a high degree of usability for people with disabilities and ensuring websites look and work the same way for everyone, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that articulates web standards and guidelines created the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) in 1997. Among the group conceived by WAI  is the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AG WG) which enact guidelines and provide technical reports relating to the accessibility of web content. This group is responsible for publishing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in 1999. WCAG is a specification of guidelines for making the web content accessible to people of all abilities, including people with disabilities. WCAG 1.0 was updated to WCAG 2.0 in 2008 as an extension and became an ISO standard, ISO/IEC 40500:2012 in October 2012. 

In 2018, however, additional recommendations were published by the working group and we now have WCAG 2.1.

WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 are both relevant and have referenceable technical standards in that they both cover recommendations for making Web content more accessible. These guidelines are organized under 4 principles:

  1. Perceivable – web content and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable – users with disabilities must be able to navigate the user interface components.
  3. Understandable – web content and its operation should be easily readable and understandable by web users.
  4. Robust – web content must be interpretable by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

The four guidelines have three levels of testable success criteria for conformance: A the minimum level of conformance), AA (medium), and AAA (highest level of conformance).

International Web Accessibility Laws

We do almost everything on the internet today. We chat with our family and friends, we work, buy clothes and book reservations, we watch videos and learn too. This is why it is essential to make websites more friendly for people with problems reading, seeing, or even hearing so more people can continue to use and access the internet. Hence, the importance of countries to address digital accessibility issues through various human rights legislation (non-discrimination laws) and standard accessibility specific laws. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) specifications have been adopted, transposed and serve as a legal benchmark for website and application accessibility in several countries and now serve as a reference for most countries’ accessibility laws.

Let’s briefly look into web accessibility laws in few countries.

1

The United States of America – (ADA and Section 508)

About a quarter of the American population, that is, one in four people in America have a form of disability ranging from cognitive to ambulatory and hearing disabilities. Thankfully, the US government has long-established fundamental laws to ensure equal rights and promote inclusiveness across all standards of life. 

The web accessibility laws in the USA are:

  1. Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  2. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

Section 508

Who must comply: All American federal agencies, including its vendors, contractors, and partners operating within and outside the U.S. 

Section 508 covers:  Internet and intranet websites, telephones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, multimedia, operating systems, digital documents, online training, etc.

The U.S government through Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as refreshed on January 18, 2018, mandates federal agencies to ensure all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used are accessible to persons with disabilities. Section 508 accessibility law has been harmonized with other guidelines, including the globally recognized standards- WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

ADA

Who must comply: All American public services and products and services from private businesses.

ADA covers goods, services (transportation, education, employment opportunities, and public accommodations), communications, information, and government activities.

Penalty Scheme: Any organization that fails to have an ADA and Section 508 -compliant website could be open to lawsuits, financial liabilities, and damage to brand reputation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is an American civil right law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and ensures equal rights and opportunities. The non-discrimination law demands state and local governments and organizations that provide public accommodation to provide effective communication and to remove any form of barriers to accessibility in their websites. The law mandates organizations to take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with any form of disability and remove any form of barriers to accessibility in their websites.

2

European Union – (EN 301 549 and European Accessibility Act)

The EU web accessibility laws and policies were born out of an ongoing effort to comprehensively address accessibility issues across the European Union. The European Union’s fundamental role in digital accessibility is to coordinate the legislative and policy activities of the individual member states and not mandate actions across all member states. The two laws that coordinate digital accessibility across the European Union are:

  1. EU Web Accessibility Directive or Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive (EN 301 549)
  2. European Accessibility Act

EN 301 549

Who must comply: all the EU member states.

EN 301 549 covers websites, mobile applications, and digital content of public administrations, hospitals, courts, and other public sector bodies including bodies governed by public law and financed via public contract.

It required public bodies, subject to the directive, to:

  • make the website and mobile app content accessible to everyone
  • publish model accessibility statements on their websites
  • provide a feedback mechanism for users to report inaccessible content
  • provide a link to the enforcement procedure

Deadlines: The minimum timelines  for compliance, monitoring, and enforcement, published by the European Commission are:

  • Websites published after September 23, 2018: Deadline – September 23, 2019
  • Websites published before September 23, 2018: Deadline- September 23, 2020
  • Mobile applications: Deadline – June 23, 2021

Penalty Scheme: Failure to comply with the directive may result in fines or other legal penalties, negative publicity, and quite possibly consumer backlash.

The EU Web Accessibility Directive was first adopted on October 26, 2016. It aims to ensure all Europeans can take an active part in the digital economy by mandating all public sectors of EU member states to make sure their websites and mobile applications are accessible to people with disabilities and meet common accessibility standards. The directive references the incorporation of the EN 301 549 standard which sets out the accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe. EN 301 549 standards gave legal force to the W3C’s WCAG guidelines. This simply means the EU officially required its member states to achieve WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA)

Who must comply: Public services and products and services from private businesses of all EU member states.

EAA covers Electronic devices, websites, mobile applications, electronic communication services, multimedia, operating systems, digital documents, e-commerce, etc.

Upcoming Deadlines: Member states have till 28 June 2022 to introduce the provision into their national laws and till 28 June 2025 to apply them. 

The European Accessibility Act was adopted in April 2019. It is a non-discrimination law that applies to public services and products from private businesses. The aim of the legislation is to eliminate the barriers that people with disabilities confront when accessing digital content, product, and services.

3

Canada – (ACA, AODA, AMA, and Nova Scotia Accessibility Act)

Canadian Government and its many provinces has web accessibility laws which means they are working towards a barrier-free country for roughly 6.2 million individuals aged 15 years and over living with some type of disabilities. The Government of Canada has recently moved from the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 that prohibits restriction and discrimination of people to accessibility specific laws.

  • The Standard on Web Accessibility affects departments, agencies, branches, and departmental corporations of the Government of Canada. It mandates them to render their web accessible to people with disabilities and to meet the five WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance requirements.
  • The Accessible Canada Act

Who must comply: Canada’s federal public sector, Crown Corporations, and all federally regulated organizations including those in the private sector. It also mandates them to adopt the WCAG 2.0 AA standard.

Penalty Scheme: Failure to comply by 2021 could result in a fine of up to $250,000.

The Accessible Canada Act received a Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. It ensures people with disabilities are not restricted from the procurement of goods and services, employment, transportation, and ICT, including digital content and the technologies used to access it. 

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Who must comply: Private or non-profit organizations with more than 50 employees and all public sector organizations and references WCAG 2.0 Level AA with the exception of live captions (1.2.4) and pre-recorded audio descriptions (1.2.5) for making their digital content accessible to people with disabilities. 

Upcoming Deadline: Failure to comply by January 1, 2021, could result in a fine of up to $100,000.

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is the first Canadian provincial accessibility law, enacted in 2005. AODA authorizes public, private, and non-profit organizations to follow established sets of accessibility standards to ensure goods, services, and ICT are equally accessible by the public. 
  • The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) became provincial accessibility legislation in 2013. AMA authorizes websites, mobile applications, and digital content of public and private sector organizations to be accessible to people with different forms of disabilities. It also adopts WCAG as a standard reference.
  • Nova Scotia Accessibility Act is the third Canadian provincial accessibility law, enacted in April 2017. It mandates public and private sector organizations to ensure goods, services, and ICT, including websites, mobile applications to be accessible to people with impairments. It references WCAG 2.0 AA requirements. 

Penalty Scheme: Failure to comply could result in a fine of up to $250,000.

4

The United Kingdom – (Equality Act of 2010)

Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018

Who must comply: public sector bodies (central government, non-government and local government organizations and charities financed by public funding or provide services that are essential to the public or are aimed at disabled people.

It covers intranet and extranet websites or mobile apps.

Penalty Scheme: Any organization with an inaccessible website or mobile application could be open to lawsuits, financial liabilities, and damage to brand reputation.

Upcoming Deadline: It required public bodies and institutions subject to the regulation, to:

  • make the website and mobile app content accessible to everyone
  • publish a declaration on the accessibility of their websites or mobile applications
  • new websites (published on or after 23 September 2018) must meet accessibility regulations and must have published an accessibility statement by 23 September 2019. 
  • existing websites that were published before 23 September 2018 must comply with the accessibility standards by 23 September 2020.
  • new, existing, or outsourced mobile apps must comply with the accessibility regulations by 23 June 2021.

Equality Act of 2010

Who must comply: public services and products and services from private businesses.

It covers goods, facilities, and services (transportation and public accommodations), ICT, and government/business procurement activities.

Penalty Scheme: Any organization that fails to have an accessible website or mobile application could be open to lawsuits, financial liabilities, and damage to brand reputation.

The BS ISO 30071-1 standard is consistent with the Equality Act 2010 and also gave reference to WCAG 2.0. The law mandates organizations to take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with any form of disability, provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people and remove any form of barriers to accessibility in their websites. The same goes for UK’s new accessibility regulations which came into force for public sector bodies on 23 September 2018. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 requires public bodies to meet the international WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard and to publish an accessibility statement.

Although the UK’s Equality Act of 2010 does not specify services, it prohibits discrimination against the 1 in 5 people in the UK with disabilities in the provision of goods, facilities, and services. However, the Code of Practice which was published to accompany the Act explicitly mentions websites as one of the “services to the public” which should be considered covered by the Act. UK government on 28 May 2019 has specified the internationalized standard BS ISO 30071-1 (supersedes BS 8878) for improving accessibility, promoting inclusive design, usability and user experience in their web design so as to ensure accessibility for disabled and older people. 

5

Israel – (Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Act of 2013)

The Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Act of 2013

Who must comply: municipalities, businesses, government agencies, non-profit organizations, etc.

It covers goods, services (transportation, education, employment opportunities, and public accommodations), communications, information, and government activities.

Penalty Scheme: Any website or organization that fails to comply could face lawsuits, fines of up to NIS 50,000, and damage to brand reputation.

Over 20% of the Israeli population lives with some type of disabilities and the Government of Israel has enacted legislation to ensure internet websites and mobile applications are accessible to people with disabilities. The Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Act of 2013 represent one of these regulations and Regulation 35 of the Act mandates websites and applications that provide service and/or information to the public to provide accessibility to all websites and applications.

Isreal’s non-discrimination law (Standard #5568) adopts WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards.

6

Japan – (JIS X 8341-3)

JIS X 8341-3 Standard

Who must comply: JIS X 8341-3 Standard affects all ministries and the national public sector.

It covers goods, services (transportation, education, employment opportunities, and public accommodations), communications, information, and government activities.

Japan is one of the leaders in seeking international standardization in the accessibility of technology. This was evident when the Japan Ministry of Postal and Telecommunication (MPT), gave a declaration about web accessibility guidelines in May of 1999. Established by the Japanese Standards Association (JSA) in June 2004, the Japanese web accessibility law for web content information accessibility (JIS X 8341-3 Standard) is based on ISO/IEC Guide 71 (JIS Z 8071) and it sets the guidelines (or issues that must be considered in planning, designing, development, production, maintenance, and operation of web content) to ensure web content and information are accessible to older persons and persons with disabilities. 

The JIS X 8341-3 standard does not adopt W3C’S WCAG guidelines but has similar success criteria as WCAG 2.0 but it is not legally binding.

7

Germany – (Equal Opportunity Act and BITV 2.0)

The Government of Germany moves towards a barrier-free country for 9.4% of its population individuals living with some form of disabilities with its two accessibility laws:

  1. Equal Opportunity Act (Disability Equality Act – BGG)
  2. Federal Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology

Equal Opportunity Act

Who must comply: federal government, including the federal bodies, institutions, and foundations of public law including those owned or funded by the federal government, subordinate to the federal government, controlled or appointed by the Confederation

Disability Equality Act – BGG covers goods and services such as means of transport, technical and non-technical commodities, sources of information, and communication facilities.

Upcoming Deadline: It required public bodies and institutions subject to the directive, to:

  • make the website and mobile app content accessible to everyone
  • provide an alternative (such as sign language or other suitable communication aids)
  • publish a declaration on the accessibility of their websites or mobile applications
  • report on the status of accessibility every three years, for the first time on June 30, 2021.

The Equal Opportunity Act (Disability Equality Act – BGG) is a non-discrimination law that authorizes goods and services including means of transport, technical and non-technical commodities, sources of information, and communication facilities to be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

BITV 2.0

Who must comply: all German public bodies and federal agencies and vendors, contractors and partners of those agencies.

Disability Equality Act – BGG covers websites, mobile applications, intranets, extranets, electronically supported administrative processes, and graphical program interfaces – web-based and non-web-based applications.

The Federal Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology (BITV) was first issued in 2002 and refreshed to BITV 2.0 on September 12, 2011. The Act authorizes the design of information and communication technology to be accessible to people with all types of disabilities. BITV 2.0 gave legal force to WCAG guidelines.

8

Australia (Disability Discrimination Act)

Disability Discrimination Act of 1992

Who must comply: any individual or organization developing a website or other web resource in Australia or placing or maintaining a web resource on an Australian server. That is the public and private sectors.

Disability Equality Act – BGG covers web pages and other resources developed or maintained for purposes related to employment; education; provision of services including professional services, banking, insurance or financial services, entertainment or recreation, telecommunications services, public transport services, or government services; sale or rental of real estate; sport; activities of voluntary associations; or administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

Penalty Scheme: Any organization or agency that fails to have an accessible ICT could be open to lawsuits, incur monetary damages, and damage to brand reputation.

Over 4.4 million (about 1 in 5 people) in Australia live with some form of disability. The good thing is Australians can look forward to a more accessible future with the progressive Australian web accessibility laws. The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 represents Australia’s main web accessibility law and it mandates all Australian government agencies and organizations who provide goods, facilities or services to make their information accessible to all individuals, including access for people with disabilities. WCAG was referenced by the Australian government in 2009, therefore, all government and non-government websites had until the end of 2013 to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA. It will be important to note that Australia also adopts the AS EN 301 549 (identical adoption of EN 301 549 V1.1.2) and the procurement recommendation – Procurement Standard Guidance (2016) all of which also gave rights to WCAG 2.0.

9

Italy – (Stanca Act)

Law 9 January 2004, n. 4 “Provisions to support the access of disabled people to IT tools” (Stanca Law)

Who must comply: Stanca Act affects all Italian government and public sectors, regional municipal companies, including transport or telecom sector that have partial government ownership.

Stanca Act covers web-based assets, all IT-related concerns, communications, information, and government activities.

About 4.8 percent of the Italia population suffers from a form of disability and that number is bound to be increasing due to the high population of elderly people (18.7% of the population over 65 and 44.5% over 80 years old). To ensure information and services are accessible, without discrimination, by older persons and individuals with disabilities, the Italia digital accessibility law was established by the Digital Agency Italy – Agenzia per l’Italia Digitale (AgID) in June 2004 and in line with Article 3 of the Italian Constitution. The Legge 9 gennaio 2004, n. 4 “Disposizioni per favorire l’accesso dei soggetti disabili agli strumenti informatici” (Legge Stanca) “Stanca Act” was named after the Minister for Innovation and Technologies, Lucio Stanca, the Minister for Innovation and Technologies at the time the act was passed. Stanca Act was published in the Italian Gazzetta Ufficiale of 17 January 2004 and became operational when it set out 22 technical requirements and different levels of computer hardware and software accessibility on 8 July 2005. An update of the act was published by Gazzetta Ufficiale on 16 September 2013. The Stanca Act also adopts the WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria and conformance criteria.

10

India – (RPD  and Guidelines for Indian Government Websites)

The Government of India moves to remove barriers to accessibility for the 29 million (2.2%) of its population living with some form of disabilities with its two accessibility laws:

  1. Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD)
  2. Guidelines for Indian Government Websites

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD)

Who must comply: public and private sectors.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act – RPD covers access to art and culture, healthcare, judicial, infrastructural reform, housing, institutions education, and employment.

Enacted by India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2016 to give effect to the rights and obligations enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities, India’s Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act is a non-discrimination law that requires all India sectors, and other aspects of daily life to provide equal opportunity, and accessibility to everyone, including people with disabilities.

Guidelines for Indian Government Websites

Who must comply: all Indian public bodies and federal agencies.

Guidelines for Indian Government Websites cover all web content.

The Guidelines for Indian Government Websites was developed in 2009 by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances. The Act authorizes the design of information and communication technology to be accessible to people with all types of disabilities. BITV 2.0 referenced the WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines for conformance but has no legislative backing, instead, it provides a checklist of tips and tricks, tools, and resources that may be used to validate websites against the guidelines to ensure compliance.

11

France – (Law N° 2005-102 Article 47)

Law N° 2005-102 Article 47

Who must comply: Law N° 2005-102 Article 47 affects all French government (including state, local, and regional authorities), and the public institutions that depend on it.

Law N° 2005-102 Article 47 covers all online public communication services.

Penalty Scheme: Any organization or agency that fails to have accessible online communication services could be open to penalties of up to €5000 (Euros).

France is also one of the countries that were quick to inclusiveness of people with disabilities and equality of rights and opportunities with its Law № 2005-102 of February 11, 2005. Established by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Article 47 of the legislation mandates all public online communication services to be accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of the means of access. Law N° 2005-102 Article 47 also ruled that these services must draft and submit a multi-year plan to make their services sufficiently accessible with a penalty for non-compliance. The ministry developed the Order of 29 April 2015 on the general accessibility framework for public administrations as the General Accessibility Framework for Administrations (the RGAA) as the application of the law. The Order (RGAA) represents the French government’s official guide to improving web accessibility for its 17% of its population with disabilities and it features a methodological framework and a technical reference (verification method, tests, and checks) to enforce and verify compliance with both the WCAG 2.0 international standard and the WCAG 2.1 AA of EN 301 549 V2.1.2 (EU standard). Law No 2016-1321 was enacted as a Digital Governance law in 2016 to partially amend Article 47 of Law No 2005-102 with a number of additional matters such as open access, portability, data retrieval, etc. Law No 2016-1321 regulates the propagation of digital technology in the private and public sectors and is overseen by the State for Digital and Innovation (lead), Education, Economy, Social Affairs, Justice, Work, Interior, Housing, and Cultural Ministries.

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