Deep Dive Into Regulations for Digital Accessibility


EN 301 549

Understanding EN 301 549: EU accessibility standards for digital products

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EN 301 549 is the European harmonized standard for digital accessibility in the public and private sectors. It sets guidelines and requirements for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products and services to make digital content accessible to people with disabilities. This critical standard covers various digital products and services, including websites, software apps, mobile apps, electronic documents, and more. 

EN 301 549 harmonized standards and requirements

EN 301 549 is based on existing accessibility standards and guidelines, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG guidelines, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), cover text alternatives, keyboard accessibility, and design that supports device independence. EN 301 549 is also a standard required by the European Web Accessibility Directive (WAD) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA).  

Notably, there are substantial differences between EN 301 549 and WCAG. For example, EN 301 549 requires that people with disabilities have access to biological data scans like facial recognition or fingerprints. EN 301 549 also includes digital accessibility aspects that extend beyond WCAG, particularly regarding websites. While WCAG focuses on making web content accessible, EN 301 549 more broadly addresses ICT accessibility requirements, including the following website provisions WCAG might not explicitly cover:

  • Hardware and software: Requirements for computers, mobile devices, operating systems, and web browsers can affect how end users access websites.
  • Telecommunications: Standards for making telecommunications services accessible could impact websites offering communication features.
  • Non-web documents and software: Although WCAG 2.1 and 2.2 have begun to address the accessibility of non-web documents and software accessed via the web, EN 301 549 has specific requirements for documents (like PDFs or office documents) and software used to access or interact with web content.
  • Compatibility with assistive technologies: EN 301 549 strongly emphasizes the need for websites (and other digital products and services) to be compatible with standard assistive technologies. It transcends WCAG guidelines to ensure people can use websites seamlessly with screen readers, magnification software, and other assistive tools.
  • Usability: While WCAG includes principles related to website usability for people with disabilities, EN 301 549 often frames these within a broader context of user interface design and interaction. This distinction may provide a more holistic view of how users interact with digital services and content.
  • Legal and compliance aspects: EN 301 549 adherence often ties to legal and contractual obligations for entities within the European Union, particularly for public sector bodies and services. This connection may introduce additional compliance considerations beyond WCAG technical specifications.

In addition, EN 301 549 outlines various requirements that digital products and services must meet to be considered accessible. These requirements include but are not limited to:

  • Perceivable: Information and user interface features must be perceivable to users, regardless of their audiovisual and tactile abilities. Requirements include providing alternatives for non-textual content like images, videos, and audio.
  • Operable: Digital products should be operable through different input methods, including voice commands, keyboard navigation, and gestures. Users should be able to navigate and interact with the content without barriers.
  • Understandable: Content and controls must be comprehensible to all users, regardless of their cognitive abilities or language proficiency. Clear instructions, error messages, and navigation mechanisms are essential for ensuring comprehension.
  • Robust: Digital products should be strong enough to withstand technological changes and adapt to different assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. This standard helps ensure that the content stays accessible over time.

History of EN 301 549 standards

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the European Electrotechnical Committee for Standardization (CENELEC), and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) launched EN 301 549 in 2014. These official groups are responsible for producing and defining voluntary standards for the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

EN 301 549 has been updated four times, most recently in 2021, to support the European Directive 2016/2102 on the accessibility of public sector bodies’ websites and mobile applications (the Web Accessibility Directive – WAD). The 2018 update uses WCAG 2.1 AA standards for its foundational compliance. Twenty-eight European Union member states and other diplomatic organizations and countries, including the European Free Trade Union (EFTA) countries, Iceland, Norway, Turkey, and Australia, adopted EN 301 549. By embracing this standard, these countries simplify trade with the EU and make their products more accessible to everyone.

EN 301 549 revision V4.1.1 is slated for publication in 2025 to support the European Directive (EU)2019/882 concerning accessibility requirements for products and services (the European Accessibility Act). 

How EN 301 549 relates to the Web Accessibility Directive & European Accessibility Act

EN 301 549 also meets the public-sector requirements of the Web Accessibility Directive, which improves access to public-service websites and mobile applications for people with disabilities. Similarly, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) uses EN 301 549 as its presumptive conformity standard. Therefore, EN 301 549 also adheres to the EAA, including its current and upcoming private-sector requirements. 

EN 301 549 contributes to a more inclusive digital world

EN 301 549 is crucial in promoting accessibility and inclusivity in the digital landscape. Organizations that take the initiative to meet this standard make their digital products and services more accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Together, these standards and laws can create a more inclusive digital environment where everyone can fully participate and benefit from technology. 

How to meet EN 301 549 harmonized standards 

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Answers to common FAQs

EN 301 549 covers digital accessibility tech requirements and meets the web requirements of WCAG version 2.1. However, EN 301 549 is more comprehensive concerning ICT accessibility, including requirements for hardware and software, telecommunications, non-web documents and software, assistive technology compatibility, usability, and legal and compliance aspects. EN 301 549 also mandates digital accessibility for biological data scans (e.g., facial recognition).

EN 301 549 applies to any ICT-based products and services, including software mobile apps, desktop apps, smartphones, PCs, informational kiosks, and all hardware and software combinations.

The latest EN 301 549 V3 version, published in 2021, supports W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA.