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South Korean Digital Accessibility Laws: An Overview

Apr 11, 2022

If your brand operates in the Republic of Korea, digital accessibility isn’t optional.

Of course, that’s true regardless of where you do business — every website has users with disabilities. If you don’t consider accessibility when making design decisions, you’re missing a major opportunity to speak to a wide, engaged audience. 

However, legal compliance is a compelling reason to adopt an accessible mindset, and Korea clearly defines requirements for government agencies and private businesses.

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

The Republic of Korea’s Act on Welfare of Persons with Disabilities

Like most nations, South Korea prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in places of public accommodation. The 2014 Act on Welfare of Persons with Disabilities (PDF) states that “no one shall be discriminated against … on the ground of his/her disability" and establishes a national responsibility for supporting the self-reliance of those with disabilities.

That responsibility extends to internet content. Private and public organizations must make reasonable efforts to provide accessible websites and mobile apps that offer an equivalent experience for those with disabilities. 

Unlike most developed nations, the Republic of Korea provides clear technical specifications for determining whether content is accessible. South Korea publishes a standard, the Korean Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1, to provide content creators with guidance for identifying barriers and making necessary improvements. 

The Korean Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1

If the name of the Korean accessibility standard sounds familiar, that’s by design: The Korean Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 are nearly identical to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the international standard for digital accessibility. 

The W3C’s WCAG is a comprehensive technical specification with checkpoints based on four principles: Content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. If you’re researching digital accessibility for the first time, we recommend reading about WCAG and its principle-based approach. 

South Korea’s web standards different from the W3C’s WCAG in several key ways:

  • South Korea’s standard includes all Level A checkpoints from WCAG 2.0, but does not require businesses or government offices to meet Level AA/AAA checkpoints. Read more about the differences between WCAG levels.
  • South Korea’s standard incorporates the W3C’s Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 and the Draft BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards. These standards do not supersede WCAG, but provide additional guidance for helping mobile app developers create accessible content.
  • According to the W3C, the South Korean guidelines were “developed considering domestic condition[s],” meaning that some of the language was altered to make compliance easier for Korean organizations.

For businesses, the important takeaway is that conformance with the latest version of the W3C’s WCAG should ensure full compliance with the Korea’s Act on Welfare of Persons with Disabilities. WCAG conformance can also help brands demonstrate compliance with other accessibility laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA). 

Related: What Are the Differences Between Mobile and Website Accessibility?

Why WCAG Conformance Isn’t Optional

About 2.6 million South Koreans live with disabilities, and by following WCAG, brands can provide those people with a better online experience. Legal compliance is, of course, important — but the benefits of digital accessibility don’t end there.

Accessible websites often have lower development and maintenance costs, and the best practices of accessibility can improve search engine positioning. Fulfilling the checkpoints of WCAG helps to remove barriers that affect all users — including those without long-term disabilities — and showing your commitment to the experiences of real-life users can enhance your brand image.

At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we recommend conforming with the latest version of WCAG regardless of where your business operates. WCAG conformance helps your organization enjoy the full benefits of accessibility and limits the long-term costs of remediation. 

For more information, download our Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist, which includes guidance for creating a WCAG conformance strategy. To discuss compliance with digital accessibility laws in South Korea or in any other country, contact us to speak with an accessibility expert.

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