Innovative Policy 2018 on Accessibility

Harmonization of ICT standards across the Atlantic

In 2004 the international standards cooperation between the United States (U.S.) and the European Commission (EC) was initiated to avoid conflicts and to harmonize their ICT accessibility standards, in particular Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and the European Commission Mandate M/376. By harmonizing standards between the U.S. and the EC, a framework had been created for developing a wide range of applications that will make ICT products and services more accessible for people with disabilities in both continents. Moreover, it facilitates trade between these regions. To date, the result has been the harmonizing of 90 per cent of all standards, with the expectation of reaching 100 per cent soon.

About the policy at a glance
Laws and regulations involved:
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • European Commission Mandate M/376
  • European Standard on e-Accessibility in 2014 (EN 301 549)
  • Responsible Body:U.S. Access Board & European Commission
    of Implementation
    USA, European Union


    • 80 million persons with disabilities in the European Union have directly benefitted.
    • 56.7 million persons with disabilities in the United States have directly benefitted.


    In the beginning, close trans-Atlantic cooperation was difficult due to the differences between the two legislative and standards models (Section 508 being a binding legislation, and EN 301549 a voluntary standard).


    The United States Access Board, a federal agency, worked in partnership with the EC to develop this policy. The challenge was to maintain close contact to help ensure that the standards did not go in different directions. Countries have unique regulatory and standards development processes, and time was required to understand the limitations and mechanisms of these processes in order to find a common approach to e-accessibility.
    The European Standards Organization adopted the first European Standard on e-Accessibility in 2014 (EN 301 549), as a result of the European Commission Mandate 376. In the United States, meanwhile, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act were jointly updated by the Access Board in January 2017. It requires that ICT is harmonized with standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.
    The standards define the functional performance requirements for various kinds of disabilities:

    • Users without vision, limited vision, without perception of colour
    • Users without hearing, limited hearing
    • Users without vocal capability
    • Users with limited manipulation or strength, or with limited reach

    This is followed by detailed requirements for hardware and software, ICT devices (phone and videos function), and web and non-web documents. Here again, each disability and its specifics are covered.
    Organizations can access the standards online and use them as guidelines to improve their technologies. Aligned standards boost and support the ICT industry to provide more accessible technologies, and due to economies of scale, benefiting persons with disabilities in the US and the EU.
    The European Standard EN 301 549 is available (in English) on the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) website, a European standards organization. It has also been published in various languages by the members of the European Committee for Standardization (national standards bodies) and the National Electrotechnical Committees in 33 European countries (including all member states of the EU and the European Free Trade Association).


    There are indications that the cooperation will continue. An international standard may be the appropriate next step to develop a truly international approach to e-accessibility that can be referenced by other countries and even globally.
    The groups involved in developing the standards are agencies with annual operating budgets, from which portions of the budgets are designated for rulemaking and standards development.


    Timothy P. Creagan
    Senior Accessibility Specialist
    U.S. Access Board


    Download factsheet as accessible pdf


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