What Is the EN 301 549 Web Accessibility Standard?

October 7, 2022

EN 301 549 is a harmonized web accessibility standard for information and communications technology (ICT) in the European Union. 

Following EN 301 549 enables European organizations to fulfill the requirements of the European Union Web Accessibility Directive, which applies to public organizations (private organizations in the EU must also maintain accessible online content under the European Accessibility Act). 

The full text of EN 301 549 (PDF) is 189 pages, addressing hundreds of potential accessibility barriers for ICT products and services. It directly incorporates the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are widely considered the consensus international standards for digital accessibility.

What organizations need to comply with EN 301 549?

Officially, EN 301 549 applies to all digital technology in the European Union public sector. This includes government websites, electronic devices, mobile applications, software, automated teller machines (ATMs), printers, and more — essentially, the standard applies to every type of digital product.

The standard is applicable to: 

  • Government agencies
  • Agencies that receive government funding
  • Third-party vendors that provide digital products or services to (or on behalf of) EU government agencies

Some countries and municipalities may have digital accessibility laws that go beyond the requirements of EN 301 549. 

Related: International Web Accessibility Laws: An Overview

How does EN 301 549 incorporate WCAG?

EN 301 549 contains detailed requirements for websites, web-delivered documents, and mobile applications, and these requirements are essentially identical to WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. 

The document also incorporates the four key principles of WCAG

  • Content must be perceivable. Information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Content must be operable. The content cannot require an interaction that the user cannot perform.
  • Content must be understandable. sers must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface. 
  • Content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents.

When content fulfills each of these principles, it’s considered accessible for a wide variety of users, including those who use assistive technology (AT) to access the internet.

Related: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?

If my website is conformant with WCAG, does it meet EN 301 549 requirements?

Most website content that meets the Level AA requirements of the latest version of WCAG will also comply with the European Union Web Accessibility Directive (along with the European Accessibility Act, Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act, and various other digital accessibility laws).

However, EN 301 549 addresses biometric data, which is not addressed in WCAG. If your organization collects or uses biometric data (such as fingerprints or facial recognition), you’ll need to review the relevant sections of EN 301 549 to make sure you’re compliant. 

Additionally, EN 301 549 contains additional sections relevant to European standards for digital documents (such as PDFs). These sections don’t differ dramatically from WCAG requirements, but you’ll need to work with an experienced accessibility partner for optimal conformance.

Related: Key EU Web Accessibility Directive Deadline Passes

Create a strategy for EN 301 549 compliance

By offering accessible products and services, you can reach a much wider audience — and reduce your legal risks by demonstrating compliance with the EU Web Accessibility Directive and various other non-discrimination laws.

To meet the EN 301 549 web accessibility standards, you’ll need to test your content against WCAG 2.1. You’ll also need to make an ongoing commitment to accessibility. Some tips for building a strategy:

  • Start with a full accessibility audit. Use both automated and manual tests to evaluate conformance with the Level AA guidelines of WCAG 2.1. 
  • Create a remediation plan. We generally recommend focusing on Level A accessibility barriers, then moving on to Level AA failures. For more guidance, read our quick guide to web accessibility remediations.
  • Don’t forget about PDFs, mobile apps, and other content. Under EN 301 549, all ICT must be accessible — not just your website.
  • Build accessibility training into your process. Accessibility should be a shared priority, so don’t assign the work to a single person or department. 

Remember, accessible design is less expensive and provides more business benefits when every member of your team considers the experiences of users with disabilities from the first stages of development.

For more guidance or for EN 301 549 remediation support, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to speak with an accessibility expert.

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