Did you recently breathe a sigh of relief after incorporating EU privacy regulations into your website processes only to discover that a new EU Web Accessibility Directive just arrived? You, my friend, are not alone.

In a nutshell, public sector websites and the documents they hold have to become accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. Any barriers that exclude users from accessing the website or website documents must be removed, and all current and future design must be inclusive.

If you’re like many organizations, you probably already adopted some form of internationally recognized accessibility guidelines into your digital applications. However, to stop fragmented policies across EU member states, the European Parliament sought to harmonize guidelines and create a standardized level of accessibility based on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Download This Guide for Making Your PDFs Accessible

Not only is it the law, but we can all agree it’s the right thing to do. So, now’s the time to get your website and documents in order.


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What’s meant by “documents”?

The term “document” sounds broad. However, it applies to file formats such as PDFs or Microsoft Office documents that aren’t primarily intended for web use but have been uploaded to your website.

Documents published before September 23, 2018 are exempt, unless the content is needed for active administrative processes relating to tasks performed by the public sector entity. There are other exclusions to the document requirements such as third-party content that’s been neither funded nor developed by the public sector organization but has been embedded or incorporated into their website. Special rules regarding pre-recorded time-based media, live broadcasts, and online maps, to name a few, also exist. Read more about those special rules in the EU Web Directive document.

PDF Accessibility

Because many file formats are often converted into PDFs, let’s run through a few steps for making them accessible. The most important thing to remember is that a well-tagged document enhances accessibility, whereas a poorly tagged document introduces major accessibility problems.

  1. Language Designate which language the document’s written in. This step makes it possible for screen readers and assistive technology to correctly convey the content. Even if a few lines of text within the document are written in another language, that text should be tagged separately.
  2. Images Label all images using “alternative text” and clearly describe what the picture shows. If an image is purely decorative such as a swirl, describe it as ‘artifact’ in the alt text field.
  3. Security Settings The lock settings on documents can make them difficult or impossible for assistive technologies to read. Make sure your final document is not locked. Locking a PDF is not the same as password protecting it.
  4. Text Tagging Tag all text, headings, lists, etc. Tagging creates a distinction between different types of content so assistive technologies can convey the visual distinctions and separate sections for the reader.

There are other considerations to address when creating accessible PDFs. Use our free guide Creating Accessible PDFs to get a clear explanation and specific instructions of additional actions.

When exactly is (or was) the deadline?

The rollout of the EU Web Accessibility Directive is staggered across four compliance deadlines.

The first deadline was September 23, 2018, when each EU member state had to transpose the Directive into law. On this day, public sector bodies became legally accountable for the accessibility of their web and mobile applications.

The second deadline for compliance comes a year later on September 23, 2019 and covers any new public sector website or app created after September 23, 2018.

The third deadline refers to websites created before September 23, 2018. They must adhere to the standards of the Directive by September 23, 2020.

The final stage is June 23, 2021 when the Directive is applied to the mobile apps of public sector bodies.

The very first step in getting in line with the new EU Web Directive is to find and correct your existing documents that lack accessibility. Use a policy tool to ease this task. Locate where the documents live on your website and fix the issues that don’t meet the new standards.