China prohibits businesses and government agencies from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. The landmark Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities (PDF) became law in 1990, two years before the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The law was written long before the internet became a common technology. As a result, the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities doesn’t include technical criteria for web accessibility, and it doesn’t mention the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
However, China does have technical standards for web accessibility — and those standards are based on an early version of WCAG. To build a digital compliance strategy, here’s what you need to know.
Does China require website accessibility?
All public and private sector organizations must comply with the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, but digital accessibility isn’t explicitly required.
Potential penalties for noncompliance:
- People with disabilities have the right to file complaints about alleged offenses.
- “Organizations of persons with disabilities" have the right to ask the government to investigate alleged offenses.
- People with disabilities may resort to litigation, and “disciplinary measures shall be taken against the people in charge [of the offending organization[ and others directly responsible.”
While the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities has fairly strong wording, it has not been applied to websites, mobile apps, or other online content.
China’s Voluntary Web Accessibility Standard
With that said, public and private sector websites are encouraged to conform with China’s Voluntary Web Accessibility Standard. As the name implies, the standard is voluntary — there’s no penalty for nonconformance.
Published in 2008, the Voluntary Web Accessibility Standard is based on WCAG version 2.0. That’s the same version of WCAG used by the United States for the Revised Section 508 Standards, which apply to government agencies and their contractors.
The Voluntary Web Accessibility Standard was developed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and the China Communications Standardization Association.
Forming a Digital Compliance Strategy for Web Accessibility
While China’s laws may not apply directly to websites, businesses that operate in China have strong incentives to provide accessible content:
- An estimated 6.2% of China’s population (PDF) have at least one disability. This may be a low estimate — in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in 4 adults live with a disability.
- The best practices of accessibility can enhance search engine optimization (SEO) and improve user engagement.
- For international businesses, following the latest version of WCAG can improve compliance with most international non-discrimination laws. That includes Title II and Title III of the ADA, the European Union’s European Accessibility Act (EAA), Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and other regulations.
It’s important to remember that accessible design is simply good web design — when your content is predictable, operable, understandable, and robust, every user benefits. Your code is cleaner, which means lower long-term costs for managing and updating your content.
Providing a Better Experience for Users with Disabilities
WCAG contains dozens of success criteria, pass-or-fail statements that can be used to test for accessibility. Those success criteria are organized into three levels of conformance:
- Level A criteria are the least strict, but most essential.
- Level AA criteria are widely considered to be a reasonable standard for most websites.
- Level AAA criteria are strict, and may not be achievable for certain types of content.
To conform with China’s Voluntary Web Accessibility Standard — and various other international specifications — you should aim for Level AA conformance with the latest version of WCAG.
For long-term digital compliance, you’ll need a sustainable testing strategy. You should also publish an accessibility statement outlining your goals and achievements.
While web accessibility can seem intimidating at first, WCAG is based on simple principles. By incorporating those principles into your process, you can become self-sufficient — and provide every visitor with a better experience.
For additional guidance, visit our Compliance Roadmap for educational resources and free self-evaluation tools. To find out whether your website conforms with WCAG, start with a free, confidential website accessibility report.