April 2024

Legislation and regulation are required to improve digital accessibility, but there are significant benefits to be gained from self-regulation.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that regulation and legislation is essential to improving the accessibility of organisations’ digital services. Regulation and legislation addressed accessibility in the EU, UK and the USA varies and is complicated but organisations that wish to operate in a country must comply with the legislation in that country, e.g. a UK or USA company must comply with the relevant legislation to operate in France.

Whenever I have been faced with complexity throughout my working life, I have striven for simplification. I believe there are two opportunities for simplification (1) all three geographies legislation and regulation have the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the technical approach to improved accessibility. (2) Compliance will be a major challenge to ensure that any regulation or legislation is enforceable. However, compliance checking by organisations extend their ESG (Environmental, Societal, Governance) to include digital accessibility. Again, there is great deal of complexity in addressing the various laws of the EU, UK and USA. Reconciling policies across these three geographies will take time to implement. However, I have attempted to summarise this complexity as below:

EU European Accessibility Act EN301549

The EU introduced the EU European Accessibility Act EN301549 for public sector websites and mobile in 2015. It is incumbent on every EU country to pass its own law that conforms to the EU Act by June 2025. Only a few countries have achieved this to-date, including France, Italy and Ireland. It is not essential for these websites to be checked for accessibility compliance. In some of the countries it is down to individual citizens to complain to non-compliant organisations. This is a serious weakness to any legislation despite draconian punishments that can be levied on named people, e.g. the Irish legislation can levy a personal fine of 60,000 euros and/or up to eighteen months imprisonment. These national country laws apply to any organisation that is operating in that country not just organisations based in that country.

UK Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (PSBAR) 2018

The UK PSBAR 2018 was implemented before Brexit and has resulted in a significant and positive difference to the accessibility of public sector websites following its introduction. There is a team of over ten people within the UK Cabinet Office responsible for compliance.

USA Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with their Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. It covers all aspects of disability not just digital accessibility. It has been successful with non-digital accessibility and later legislation is being formulated to improve digital accessibility. The DOJ Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on accessible websites of state and local governments, and Mandate M-24-08 to Strengthen Digital Accessibility and the Management of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, will impact public sector organisations and Software as a Service (SAAS) companies and digital agencies who sell services and products to them. It is understood that compliance checking of ADA has been a major issue.

There is clearly a long way to go, and over many years for the legislation and regulation to be established and to become effective. It is vital that any regulation or legislation can be compliance checked, in this case WCAG compliance. It is clear to me that compliance checking at the appropriate scale using today’s manual checking is not tenable. I do believe that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could significantly reduce the manual effort required to manually compliance check websites and mobile apps. However, this does require investment of both Research and Development.

I recommend that organisations should, on purely ethical grounds, ensure that their ESG implementation is expanded so that digital services including websites, mobile apps, online documents and videos are designed built and tested to WCAG. Their digital accessibility goals and outcomes should be included in the ESG reporting.

My previous blog entries are:

About the author

Chris Winter FIET FBCS CITP is an Ambassador for the Digital Poverty Alliance, an evangelist for digital accessibility and a former IBM Fellow, now retired.

About the Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA). The DPA defines Digital Poverty with five key determinants: the affordability of devices and connectivity, accessibility (for the disabled), skills, motivation and a lack of ongoing support. With the breadth of digital poverty being so broad. Its objective is to eradicate digital poverty in the UK by 2030.