Originating in Europe, EN 301 549 (otherwise known as Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services Product Designation: AS EN 301 549) has now made its way down to Australia. In December 2016, it was formally adopted as a part of the federal government’s procurement policies for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and will also serve as advice for state and local governments. It’s a momentous step, and is one that is welcomed by many, including organisations that advocate for people with disabilities. For the first time, there is a procurement standard that can be used to assess the accessibility of any technology that is acquired, and suppliers will need to identify how they meet this standard when asked. The standard was updated in 2020.

But what exactly is EN 301 549, what are the requirements, how will it help accessibility, and what is the standard applicable to Australian government?

What is EN 301 549?

EN 301 549, now ratified by Standards Australia, was launched in 2014 by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. The standard specifies a broad range of accessibility requirements applicable to ICT products and services (such as software, hardware, and any other such as software, hardware, and any other form of technology that a person may interact with such as a information kiosk), and applies them to procurement. When referenced within any procurement policy, suppliers must state how their product or service meets the accessibility requirements in the standard.

What’s in the standard?

The standard has two main sections. The first outlines the accessibility needs of different user groups. The second has detailed requirements on how user’s need must be met for different products and services.

Accessibility needs

The standard has a series of ‘functional performance statements’ that identify user’s access needs that must be met to conform with the standard. They focus on users who:

  • are blind, have low vision, or are colour-blind
  • are deaf or hearing impaired
  • cannot communicate vocally
  • have limited hand strength or limited reach
  • may experience seizures
  • are neurodiverse.

Privacy is also highlighted to ensure that no sensitive information is unwillingly disclosed or shared.

Accessibility requirements

The standard also has a long list of ‘functional accessibility requirements’ for different types of products and services, each of which need to be met in order to satisfy the procurement guidelines. Requirements focus on the way that information can be presented, viewed, or interacted with.

In addition to generic requirements for all ICT products and services, there are specific requirements for:

  • hardware and software
  • technologies with two-way voice communication
  • technologies that allow videos to be played
  • websites
  • non-web documents
  • technologies that provide access to emergency services

Examples of these requirements include:

  • If textual information is presented on a screen, users should be able to make the text bigger
  • Web and software technologies should be able to interact with screen readers, or have other inbuilt capabilities that allows information to be read out
  • If information is intended to be communicated through means other than a user’s voice (sign-language, text, lip reading), this communication can be completed through a two-way channel

Accessibility requirements for websites and web content leverage the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, explicitly stating WCAG 2.0 Level AA (including Level A) as the benchmark. Where it’s appropriate, relevant WCAG criteria have been applied to other technologies, such as hardware and software.

What does it mean for the accessibility of Australian ICT?

EN 301 549 is a standard that can and should be universally adopted. Any business or organisation can include it in their technology policies and procurement.

With the Digital Service Standard making specific references to accessibility and inclusive design, as well as EN 301 549 now being included as a part of the Australian government’s ICT procurement, there are now several government policies and procedures that include accessibility. Moving forward, accessibility of government websites and technologies should continue to improve. Any technology that is acquired should be able to have all of its users be able to use it, including completing all necessary tasks and using all functionality within it.

The full EN 301 549 standard is available from the Standards Australia website.