New EU directive requires public sector websites and mobile applications to be accessible

Representatives of EU governments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission have drafted the first mandatory rules to enforce accessibility on European public sector websites and mobile apps. These include state, regional and local authorities, and bodies and associations serving the general interest that are governed by public law.

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The rules will include guidelines on providing descriptions of non-textual content for persons with visual limitations, creating content that can be better presented across a range of devices that can be browsed without a mouse, making older content available to citizens in accessible form on demand, making mandatory for government videos to have closed captioning or another accessible alternative, including live streaming within a maximum of 14 days of broadcast, or providing accessibility options for online services that involve paying fines or fees. Additionally it must be clearly stated on each website what parts are not accessible.

The scope of the directive has not only been extended to mobile applications, which are more popular than websites, but also to extranets and intranets, to allow employees and students to access information that is essential in their daily lives.

The directive will enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal. European member states will then have 21 months to adopt national legislation to comply with it, and they must start applying the new rules to new websites one year later. For older websites the deadline is two years and for mobile apps 33 months.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, welcomed the agreement:

“Internet access should be a reality for everyone. Leaving millions of Europeans behind is not an option. Tonight’s agreement is an important step towards a Digital Single Market, which is about removing barriers so that all Europeans can get the best from the digital world.”

Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said:

“It is not acceptable that millions of European citizens are left behind in the digital society. The agreement that we have just reached will ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the internet and mobile apps, to participate in society to a fuller extent and to lead a more independent life.”

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