Disability Rights & Accessibility Laws, Regionally

by Cam N. Coulter

Posted on June 25, 2021 accessibility

Universal access icon: a stick figure with a circle around them.

I love geeking out about laws and standards. Writing this post was surprisingly fun.

Study-blogging has been really helpful for me. I understand disability rights and accessibility laws around the world, and in Europe in particular, so much better after writing this post.

Let’s jump into it: what’s the state of disability rights and accessibility laws in different regions across the world? What are the key treaties, agreements, and standards?


The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union “brings together all the personal, civic, political, economic and social rights enjoyed by people within the EU in a single text.” It was proclaimed in 2000 and went into effect in 2009.

Article 21 reads in part:

Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. (Emphasis added.)

Articel 26 reads:

The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.

Web Accessibility Directive

The Web Accessibility Directive is also known as Directive (EU) 2016/2102 on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies. It was adopted by the EU in 2016, and similar to Section 508 in the US, the directive requires public sector websites and apps to be accessible. According to Siteimprove: “As of September 23, 2020, all websites in the EU public sector must comply with the directive. And effective June 23, 2021, mobile applications will also have to comply.” The Web Accessibility Directive itself doesn’t define what constitutes an accessible website or app. For that, the directive repeatedly references EN 301 549.

EN 301 549

EN 301 549 is also known as “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe.” EN 301 549 is a European standard for digital accessibility, focusing on public (government) procurement of products and services. Similar to the Section 508 technical standards in the US, EN 301 549 addresses a wide array of ICT, beyond just websites. For sections that do address web accessibility, EN 301 549 directly references WCAG 2.1 level AA. EN 301 549 has been updated a few times. I believe the most recent update was in 2019: EN 301 549 V3.1.1.

For more on EN 301 549, I recommend the post “What does European accessibility standard EN 301 549 mean for US organizations?” on Deque’s blog.

European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act was adopted in 2019. Similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the US, the European Accessibility Act is directed toward the private sector. According to Siteimprove: “The European Accessibility Act applies to manufacturers and providers who sell products and services across European borders that have been deemed essential by the directive,” such as computers, e-commerce services, banking services, and more. The act has a broader focus than just websites and apps; for example, it also applies to ATMs and to the services and products of the transportation sector. Individual members states are supposed to implement the European Accessibility Act in their own laws, and they have until 2025 for those laws to be implemented.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights is a regional human rights instrument, signed and ratified by 54 states. It went into effect in 1986 under the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union.

Article 2 is a non-discrimination clause. It doesn’t explicitly include people with disabilities. Article 2 reads:

Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or any status.

However, article 18 does specifically mention people with disabilities. It reads in part:

The aged and the disabled shall also have the right to special measures of protection in keeping with their physical or moral needs.

The Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities

The Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities is a regional human rights instrument. It was adopted in 1999 under the Organization of American States and entered into force in 2001. I believe the United States has neither signed or ratified the treaty.

As the title of the treaty implies, the Convention specifically addresses discrimination against people with disabilities. Article 2 states:

The objectives of this Convention are to prevent and eliminate all forms of discrimination against persons with disabilities and to promote their full integration into society.

Article 3 says that countries will “undertake to” adopt legislation and other measures to eliminate discrimination by both governments and private entities and eliminate architectural, transportation, and communication access barriers. Article 3 also says that countries will work on:

  • Preventing preventable disabilities
  • Treatment
  • Rehabilitation
  • Education
  • Job Training
  • The “provision of comprehensive services to ensure the optimal level of independence and quality of life for persons with disabilities”
  • Increasing public awareness and eliminating prejudices

Image created by Cam Coulter. Icon by mikion on the Noun Project.

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