EU Web Accessibility Directive and testing tools

Accessibility standards in the European Union and open source tools to test public bodies’ websites and applications

Published on: 02/07/2021

As part of the steps outlined in the EU Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102), accessibility standards must be met for public sector websites since September 2020, and from June 2021, the standards also apply to public sector mobile phone apps.


In June 2021, public sector phone apps had to become accessible for people with disabilities as part of the next phase of the Web Accessibility Directive across the EU. The Directive called for action by all public bodies on September 23rd, 2020, when their websites had to become accessible by everyone – especially people with disabilities.

It all started in 2014, when a Member of the European Parliament expressed the need for everybody to be able to get help or services provided from public institutions online. Two years later, in 2016, the Web Accessibility Directive was agreed on by a majority of the European Parliament and in force since December 2016.

The focus on accessibility comes with the increasing digitalisation of society, in both private services and public ones. The EU Directive supports (see principle 12) the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by requiring equal access to online public sector services of the member countries.


Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) on public websites

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published its work on technical standards such as the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which has similarities with the EU Directive. WAI is an initiative for web accessibility. The requirement in WAI and in the EU Directive are: Perceivability (seeing), Operability (using), Understandability (understanding) and Robustness (robust code) (principle 37 in the EU Directive).

A subcategory of the WAI has received special attention: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG details requirements for images, audio, alternatives to text, and code structure, among others. It is a useful standard for designers, writers, and coders, be they individuals, part of organisations or even governments. The guidelines are structured according to the principles above, and each guideline is listed with success criteria in three levels (A, AA, and AAA). The WCAG document is today in version 2.1, and version 2.2 is to be released later this year.


Open source for WCAG testing

Various countries, such as Sweden, Latvia, Slovenia run governmental websites on open source tools. An advantage of an open source public website is the community behind it, as more people report accessibility holes in the code, compared to closed websites. The same is true for open source mobile apps. The communities keep the code high quality through the four principles of open source: freedom to study, share, modify, and use.

Another kind of support based on open source is the use of testing tools for web and app accessibility. There are plenty of open source testing tools available to evaluate a website according to the WCAG. They all have the same goal, which is to identify accessibility problems. By using open source software, governments throughout the EU may easily adapt the given software and sharing practical tips between each other. At the time being, there is no EU recommendation on testing tools that governments may refer to in order to comply with the Web Accessibility Directive – an OSS would be a welcome option.

In order to evaluate a website or mobile app for accessibility, various automated accessibility testing solutions and checklists exist. Below is a short list of various open source accessibility testing tools for desktop and mobile use:

  • NVDA provides a manual way of testing the accessibility of a website for blind and visually impaired persons. The software provides information on accessibility in observation of European standards, and can be used by governments.
  • The Axe tool, by Deque Systems, is available for testing Android applications (iOS is being developed). It complies with the European standards.
  • Another online tool is Tanaguru, which has been applied by the French National Ministry of Education. It adheres with the EU Directive in order to make website assessments.

The W3C also hosts a portal where software programmes and online services to test accessibility may be applied, according various guidelines – however, the list cannot be filtered according to proprietary or open source software. The European Commission will review the application of the Web Accessibility Directive in 2022. There is still time to test various tools by Member States’ governments.



Key take-aways

  • As of June 2021, the EU Web Accessibility Directive must be implemented on public bodies’ mobile applications to make them easier to use for people with disabilities.
  • W3C has a list of requirements for accessibility where websites and apps can be tested against breaches of accessibility standards.
  • While open source websites have a community to support findings and address requirements, other websites should use a testing tool. There are plenty – also open source.


Wed, 06/10/2021 - 14:00

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