WCAG 2.1 Adoption in Europe
Last week the three official European Standards Organizations (ESOs), CEN, CENELEC, and ETSI, published an updated version of EN 301 549 "Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services". The most significant change in this version is adoption of the W3C "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1" for web content, electronic documents, and non-web software, such as native mobile applications.
Unlike the prior version of EN 301 549 that included WCAG 2.0 as an 'electronic attachment', this updated version directly references WCAG 2.1. This change simplifies the document and avoids duplication of WCAG text. It also makes direct translations of WCAG even more relevant.
The requirements for electronic documents and non-web software are based on the non-normative W3C "Guidance on Applying WCAG 2.0 to Non-Web Information and Communications Technologies (WCAG2ICT)". This is consistent with the prior version of EN 301 549. However, in this version additional requirements have been included to reflect the new requirements in WCAG 2.1, which are currently not reflected in WCAG2ICT.
With these updates, EN 301 549 is believed to address the needs of the EU Web Accessibility Directive, which applies to websites and mobile apps of public bodies in Europe. Annex A of this updated EN 301 549 describes the relationship between the individual requirements of this standard and the Directive.
If the European Commission (EC) accepts this standard, it will be announced as a "Harmonized European Norm (HEN)" in the Official Journal of the European Union. This announcement is expected to happen later this month. At the same time, the EC will publish a monitoring methodology and a definition of an accessibility statement that the EU Member States are expected to apply along with the standard.
I had the pleasure of representing W3C in the ETSI Specialist Task Force (STF) 536 responsible for the development of this updated EN 301 549, in the ESO Joint Working Group (JWG) on eAccessibility overseeing this development, and in the EC Web Accessibility Directive Expert Group (WADEX) advising the EC on related matters. The objective of this involvement is the continued harmonization of formal and informal European standards with the international technical guidance from W3C. This was indeed at risk, given the concurrent development of WCAG 2.1 and this version of EN 301 549.
I'm delighted that it all worked out in the end, and that we managed to keep EN 301 549 fully aligned with WCAG. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this possible, including the EC, the ESOs and their national bodies, and other members of the community. In particular, many thanks to the participants of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (AGWG) for working so hard to ensure on-schedule delivery of WCAG 2.1 - it would not have been possible without that!
Meanwhile, work on the next version of EN 301 549 has already started, with an expected release date of December 2019. The goal is to better align with related standards in the United States and to address known issues, such as on Real-Time Text (RTT). This is relevant to W3C developments on Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), and potentially to future WAI Guidelines too. Stay tuned for updates...