Does France have digital accessibility laws — and if so, how can you make sure that your website is compliant?
The quick answer: Follow the Level AA guidelines of the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the international standard for website and mobile accessibility, and conformance with WCAG Level AA provides the best path to compliance with French laws (along with various other international non-discrimination laws).
In this article, we’ll provide a broad overview of France’s digital accessibility laws. For more guidance on international compliance, read: International Web Accessibility Laws: An Overview.
Law Number 2005-102: France’s Digital Accessibility Law
In 2005, France passed Law 2005-102, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
Editorial note: The law is sometimes written as “Law N° 2005-102.: For optimal screen reader accessibility, we’re leaving out the degree symbol in this article.
Law 2005-102 is roughly similar to the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but unlike the ADA, it specifically mandates accessibility for “all online public communication services of the State, local authorities, and public establishments dependent on them.”
Public institutions in France must follow the General Accessibility Reference Framework for Administrations (RGAA), which is based on WCAG 2.0.
A few important points regarding Law 2005-102:
- The law applies to public, private, and non-profit organizations operating in France.
- All public-sector organizations must follow RGAA (and by reference, WCAG 2.0).
- Businesses that earn more than 250 million euros annually must also follow RGAA. Smaller businesses must also provide accessible content, but have no explicit requirement to follow RGAA.
- The law allows for financial penalties for noncompliance. People with disabilities may report violations to the Human Rights Authority.
France is a member of the European Union, so the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and EU Web Accessibility Directive also apply. These directives require member nations to take steps to ensure accessible online content — which means following WCAG.
Why WCAG is the Framework for France’s Digital Accessibility Laws
WCAG is published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the international standards organization that publishes technical specifications for HTML (HyperText Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and other internet technologies.
Simply put, the internet needs accessibility standards: Over 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, including an estimated 12 million French citizens. Many of those people need the internet to work, shop, and sign up for government services — so an accessible internet is a major priority.
WCAG addresses this challenge through common-sense guidance. The document is based on four principles: Content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. When websites follow these principles, they work better for every user, regardless of the user’s abilities or the technologies they use to browse the internet.
WCAG contains dozens of success criteria, pass-or-fail statements used to test accessibility. By following WCAG, you can address many of the barriers that affect your users:
- Low-contrast text, which may be unreadable for people with certain vision disabilities.
- Poor keyboard support, which impacts people who use a keyboard alone to browse the internet.
- Missing text alternatives for images and other non-text content, which impacts users with vision disabilities.
- Missing form labels and instructions, which may create confusion for people who use assistive technologies.
This isn’t a comprehensive list. To learn more, read: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide.
Forming a Strategy for Digital Accessibility Compliance
To comply with Law 2005-102, the ADA, and various other accessibility laws, you’ll need to test your content regularly. The best practice is to use a combination of manual and automated tests, then work with an accessibility partner to handle any necessary remediations.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Automated tests can identify many accessibility barriers, but some WCAG criteria require human judgment. Work with qualified testers to ensure that your content is as accessible as possible.
- WCAG has three levels of conformance: Level A (least strict), Level AA, and Level AA (most strict). Learn why most websites should aim for Level AA conformance.
- Have a remediation strategy. Before fixing a barrier, understand why you’re making the change and how the improvement will impact users.
- Think long-term. Accessibility isn’t a one-and-done project, and you’ll need regular testing to maintain digital compliance.
- Remember that all digital resources must be accessible. That includes websites, mobile apps, and web-delivered documents.
You can handle many accessibility remediations on your own. By following WCAG, you’ll find opportunities for improvement — and making those changes can help you realize the extraordinary benefits of digital accessibility. Inclusive content can improve your website’s search engine rankings, drive user engagement, and help you build a stronger brand.
If you’re ready to get started, we’re ready to help. Send us a message to connect with an expert or get started with a free, confidential automated accessibility analysis.