In December 2005, the European Union’s European Commission requested that The European Standardization Organizations establish standards to supports accessibility requirements for public procurement of products and services throughout the jurisdiction of the European Union.
Established in support of eEurope and eAccessibility Resolutions that are striving to improve Information and Communication Technology accessibility through legislation, the European Union is promoting a “Design for All” approach, through what has been called Mandate 376. Due in large part to the ever growing population of individuals with disabilities, accessibility has become a major issue to improve citizens with disabilities independence, quality of life, and integrations into their communities.
The European Commission established the mandate into two phases:
Phase I: “Inventory of European and international accessibility requirements and assessment of suitable testing and conformity schemes”
The European Commission established that the European Standardization Organizations had to submit the standards in 12 months and generate two technical reports. The first report had to outline the inventory of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) products and services, existing accessibility requirements of the European Member States, and propose a standardized work program. The second report had to outline an analysis about testing and conformity schemes that met accessibility requirements.
Phase II: “Standardisation activities”
The European Commission establishes five deliverables that provide guidance to public procurers of ICT products and services. The deliverables include: a European Standard for ICT products and services, a report listing standards and technical specifications of ICT products and services, accessibility award criteria guidelines, support and guidance material for procurers, and an online accessibility toolkit.
The European Standardization Organizations (CEN, CENELEC, and ETSI) established Standard EN 301 549 in response to Mandate 376.
Standard – EN 301 549
In January 2014, CEN, CENELEC, and ETSI published Standard EN 301 549, titled “Accessibility Requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and Services in Europe.”
The standard was completed in three Technical Reports that outline accessibility requirements for ICT products and services. ICT products and services include: digital devices, such as smartphones, ticketing machines, computers, websites, and emails.
Based on the mandate, Standard EN 301 549 established an online Accessible ICT Procurement Toolkit for procurers and others who would benefit from it. The stages of procurement are broken down into four stages: writing a call for tenders, evaluation tenders, evaluating deliverables, and managing contracts. The stages were developed to ensure that procurers have guidance and meet the accessibility requirements when purchasing ICT products and services.
For webpages to be accessible to all people, Standard EN 301 549 establishes that the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 must be followed. WCAG 2.0 must also be followed to caption prerecorded audio and provide audio descriptions. WCAG 2.0 is considered to be a world standard for accessibility. By following WCAG 2.0, ICT products and services that apply will be accessible to people with disabilities, fulfilling the European Union’s “Design for All” goals.