Comparative analysis of policies in the European Union, Canada and the United States

This section compares the implementation of national e-accessibility policy in the European Union, Canada and the United States. These examples were selected because they are each composed of distinct administrative units – countries of the European Union, governorates of Canada, and states of the United States – with their own specific legal characteristics, and each has laws in place to promote e-accessibility. Furthermore, in the European Union, Canada and the United States, persons with disabilities have a legal right to e-accessibility and can lodge a complaint against any public or private entity that does not comply with e-accessibility requirements.

1. Canada




(Mandatory policy)

  1. Policy on Communications and Federal Identity.a

    This policy requires all government departments dealing with e-accessibility to meet the requirements of the Standard on Web Accessibility so as to ensure that all web pages, publications and digital data are accessible to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

  2. Guidance on Implementing Standard Web Accessibility (2011).b

    This guidance, alongside the Canada Human Rights Actc (c. H-6, section 24) and other related legislation on persons with disabilities, serves as the legal and policy reference for e-accessibility at the federal level in Canada.

Implementing agency

To promote accessibility and e-accessibility, the Government of Canada has taken a “whole-of-government” approach, according to which responsibility for oversight and implementation of e-accessibility policy is distributed among the following entities:

  1. The Office of Public Service Accessibility,d a branch of the Treasury Board: the Governor General appoints a commissioner responsible for access to services, answerable to the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, who is responsible for compliance and enforcement, as well as dealing with complaints related to all other activities and sectors under federal jurisdiction.
  2. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is responsible for compliance and enforcement relating to broadcasting and communications, using its statutory powers.
  3. The Canadian Transportation Agency is responsible for compliance and enforcement in the transport sector, by means of its enhanced powers.

Supporting legislation

Accessible Canada Act.

Policy on inclusion of persons with disabilities in federal public service (known as the Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada).

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Employment Equity Act.

Regional laws on accessibility, including the following:

Act Respecting Equal Access to Employment in Public Bodies (Quebec).

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA).

Nova Scotia Accessibility Act.

Policy scope

Develop e-accessibility standards and work with stakeholders and persons with disabilities in order to do the following:

Set new accessibility standards applicable to sectors such as banking, communications and transport, as well as to the Government of Canada itself.

Adopt compliance and enforcement measures and set up accessibility-related complaints mechanisms.

Ensure coverage of all governmental bodies and public and private-sector entities.

Action areas

The Guidance on implementing the Standard on Web Accessibility sets the following deadlines for the implementation of e-accessibility standards:

Phase I (August 1, 2011 to February 29, 2012) applies to:

  • All Government home pages and pages referenced from Government websites (namely third-party content) and smartphone applications (home page as a minimum).
  • All new web pages and smartphone applications published after 1 October 2011.
  • Significant number of web pages and smartphone applications that provide essential information and services to individuals and businesses, including on rights and benefits.
  • Significant number of the most frequently used web pages and smartphone applications.

Phase II (March 1, 2012 to July 31, 2012) applies to:

  • Additional internal pages on Government websites, smartphone applications, services and web pages that are the most frequently used.

Phase III (August 1, 2012  to July 31, 2013) applies to:

  • All remaining Government web pages and smartphone applications, and a significant proportion of the most frequently used private websites involved in public service provision.

The above represents the minimum requirements, which departments are encouraged to surpass.e

Standards adopted

Adoption of WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA, and all related applicable standards.

Governance mechanisms

Under the Accessible Canada Act, two new positions were created, namely:

1. Accessibility Commissioner.

2. Chief Accessibility Officer.

Both of those individuals have the authority to impose penalties on public and private institutions. The Office of the Commissioner can investigate complaints, assess penalties and issue compliance orders.f

Policy implementation mechanisms

To ensure that entities meet their obligations under the Accessible Canada Act, a range of proactive compliance measures are recommended, including inspections, compliance reviews, compliance orders, and notices of violation accompanied by warnings or administrative monetary penalties. Equally, the entities subject to the Act have the right to challenge decisions or request an administrative review.g

a     Policy on Communications and Federal Identity: Deputy heads are responsible for the following: 6.3.5 Meets the requirements of the Standard on Web Accessibility and provides published information on request that is substantially equal for people with disabilities.


c     Canadian Human Rights Act – R.S.C., 1985, c. H-6 (Section 24).

d     Government of Canada. Measuring progress: Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada service/diversity-inclusion-public-service/accessibility-public-service/accessibility-strategy-public-service-toc/accessibility-strategy-public-service-measuring-progress.html.

e     See footnote b

f     Administrative monetary penalties: Depending on the nature and severity of non-compliance, an officer could require that the regulated entity pay a fine (up to $250,000).

g     Government of Canada – Proposed Accessible Canada Act – Summary of the bill.

2. Conclusions from the experience of Canada

As an early adopter of e-accessibility standards, Canada launched its own “Common Look and Feel (CLF) 1.0 standards” back in 2000. The standards adopted by Canada were incorporated into the first version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0), with which public-sector entities were required to comply by the end of 2002. Subsequently, Canada developed the “Common Look and Feel (CLF) 2.0 standards”, with which public-sector entities were required to comply by the end of 2008, which was also the year when WCAG 2.0 was published.

At the end of 2008, Canada adopted WCAG 2.0 and requested its State institutions to implement the standard. Canada only launched its national wweb accessibility policy in 2011, when the minister responsible for the Treasury Board announced that CLF 2.0 would be replaced by the following three new standards:

1. Standard on Web Accessibility

2. Standard on Web Usability

3. Standard on Web Interoperability

The announcement stated that Canada would adopt WCAG 2.0, which contained the most up-to-date internationally recognized guidance on web accessibility.[1]

Best practices from the experience of Canada

  • Early adoption of e-accessibility concepts (since 2000).
  • Early establishment of e-accessibility policy pillars, which were progressively developed into regulations, before becoming the law in 2011. From an international perspective, this is the best way to build comprehensive policy, namely, by progressing through a series of different implementation phases.
  • Assigning e-accessibility policy to a specific agency, in this instance a specialized commission with the necessary powers to enforce and sanction, without disrupting the “whole-of-government” approach.
  • Giving key sectors sufficient time to reach compliance with e-accessibility requirements and imposing severe penalties for infringement or non-compliance.

At this point, it should be noted that the Canadian Government’s highly flexible approach, which involves adopting standards as they evolve, demonstrates a great deal of legislative flexibility and shows the benefit of treating e-accessibility as a basic human right of persons with disabilities, whether they be citizens or residents. It is also worth noting that all constitutional content in Canada is subject to the principle of official bilingualism.[2] This example of applying e-accessibility principles to content in two languages is viewed as a best practice in the case of countries that have more than one official language.

Canada took a “whole-of-government” approach to implementing an e-accessibility policy, which has the advantage of covering all federal government departments involved in policy implementation. Each minister, their associates and the heads of specialized departments are directly responsible for drawing up e-accessibility action plans for governmental services and overseeing policy implementation by all web content providers, including third party content websites, any large or medium-sized private enterprise, and private institutions of public benefit.

As part of that approach, the minister responsible for the Treasury Board established the Office of Public Service Accessibility, whose mandate is set out in the Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada as follows:

  1. Develop and launch an accessibility strategy for the public service of Canada
  2. Provide expert advice, leadership and coordination to departments and agencies to implement the requirements of the proposed Accessible Canada Act
  3. Develop targeted initiatives to help improve workplace accessibility and grant the necessary authorization for their implementation by 2021

Obligations of the private sector and civil society, and the situation following the enactment of the e-accessibility law (AODA)

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), enacted in 2005, contains standards that must be respected by public, private and non-profit organizations. The objective of the Act was to make Ontario fully compliant with e-accessibility standards by 2025, giving it 20 years to reach full compliance in all sectors. Under the Act, all public-sector organizations and private or non-profit organizations employing over 50 employees were given a deadline of 1 January 2021 to bring their websites and online content into compliance with WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA. Any entity found in breach of those standards after that date faces a penalty of up to 100,000 Canadian dollars per day of non-compliance.

3. United States




(Mandatory policy)

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Special Policy.a

Implementing agency

The Federal Communications Commission has the exclusive authority to implement and enforce the Act under Section 255, and to issue implementation regulations and implement e-accessibility activities.

On 18 January 2017, the United States Access Board  issued a final rule updating both the e-accessibility policy under Section 508 and the guidance on telecommunications equipment under Section 255 of the Communications Act.b

  • The United States Access Board is responsible for developing e-accessibility standards to incorporate into regulations that govern federal procurement practices.c

Supporting legislation

  • Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934 mandates that telecommunications services and equipment must be accessible to persons with disabilities.d
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit federal employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.e
  • Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination based on disability by federal contractors or subcontractors.f
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits federal agencies, programmes or activities from discriminating against and requires reasonable accommodation to be made for persons with disabilities.g
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990h was the first legal framework to guarantee equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Policy scope

Applies to all federal agencies (Government institutions) when developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology. Under Section 508, federal agencies must give employees with disability and members of the public with disability access to information comparable to the access available to others. Private websites are not required to comply as long as they have not received funding from the federal Government or under a federal contract.

Action areas

In essence, any legally registered organization or institution that operates under permission of the United States. Federal Government must comply with Section 508.

Generally speaking, these regulations are not mandatory for the private sector.i

All institutions that receive federal funding or do business with the United States Federal Government, and all institutions, programmes, non-profit organizations, and other entities connected with public education service provision must comply with Section 508j and ensure that any information they publish is accessible pursuant to the applicable standard. This includes mobile applications, websites, most digital media, self-service kiosks and electronic payment devices.

The United States has been making progress towards e-accessibility for more than two decades, but the past five years in particular have seen significant advances in both the public and private sector, largely because of an increasing focus on older adults who – with their strong purchasing power and their increasing use of digital devices, the Internet and online shopping – have become a key target market.

Official e-accessibility policy focusses on the following areas:

  • Federal Government service provision.
  • Education.
  • Labour and employment.

Standards adopted

  • WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA, is the main standard for e-accessibility.
  • The standards contained in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • The regulations contained in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Note: Application of these standards varies by state.k

Governance mechanisms

The head of each federal department or agency assesses the level of e-accessibility for persons with disabilities compared with other individuals and reports it to the Attorney-General.

Implementation of national e-accessibility policy was only assigned to a centralized federal body in 2017, when the United States Access Board was established. The Board’s functions include developing digital standards and incorporating them into the regulations governing federal procurement practices.

Policy implementation mechanisms

Entities (such as organizations and companies) that do not comply with Section 508 can be sued by individuals who are unable to access online information and resources.

Private enterprises that supply ICTs to federal agencies can lose their Government contracts if they fail to meet e-accessibility requirements.

In reality, no mechanisms are currently in place to enforce compliance by the private sector.l

However, given that most US global technology companies do business with and provide services to the rest of the world, they have been obliged to comply with the standards followed in Europe, Canada and other major markets. This means that large companies, including those that deal in telecommunications, software and mobile applications, work on the basis of US standards and WCAG 2.0. In practice, these companies have been obliged to comply with the e-accessibility standards of the countries to which they sell their services.

One example of a large company whose websites and programmes comply with these standards is Microsoft.m

a     Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 <>.

b     Revised 508 standards and 255 guidelines

c     See footnote b

d         The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Sections 501 and 505, USA.

f    Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, USA.

g   Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, USA.


i    Questions & Answers about Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998, Q&A: #4.

j 2.12.2016 EN Official Journal of the European Union L 327/1. (Legislative acts) – DIRECTIVE (EU) 2016/2102 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 26 October 2016 – on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies.

k   Oxford Academic, The Gerontologist – Web Accessibility for Older Adults: A Comparative Analysis of Disability Laws.

l Website Accessibility & the Law: Why Your Website Must Be Compliant – Search Engine Journal – Kim Krause Berg – January 9, 2019.

m  Microsoft – accessibility portal.

4. Conclusions from the experience of the United States

Observations from the United States experience

Based on the experience of high-profile US tech giants, whose programmes and applications are unrivalled worldwide, these companies appear to gradually come into compliance with global e-accessibility standards over time, and to be influenced by market needs and global public opinion concerning their success or failure to support a certain user base – in this instance, persons with disabilities and other marginalized and vulnerable segments of society. Large US companies have the technical and financial capacity to adopt e-accessibility standards, and can gain a competitive commercial advantage by choosing to do so. Most of them will opt to use this advantage soon enough, not just to cater to persons with disabilities but also to the rising number of older persons who require assistive technologies (namely e-accessibility) in their daily lives. Moreover, these companies have developed artificial intelligence processes and programmes that allow them to minimize the cost of transitioning to e-accessibility, while it remains a costly option for their global competitors.

While the American example has not been as Government-influenced as the Canadian example, in 2017 and 2018 the U.S. outranked Canada in the Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation Index, compiled by the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict).[3] This is the result of early implementation of Section 508 at federal Government level; nonetheless, there remains a great deal of variation among states. Until 2017, national e-accessibility policy had not been assigned to any specific agency. This has affected coordination between the federal and state authorities; many states have their own specific e-accessibility regulations, and some large governmental institutions have even set their own e-accessibility policies to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Law of 1973, or based on a combination of Section 508 and WCAG 2.0.

As a result of this package of policies, a designated template has been introduced for implementation of these standards, called the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, which has been issued in number of versions.[4]

5. European Union




Directive (EU) 2016/2102.a

This guidance is designed to improve the compliance of public-sector websites and mobile applications with e-accessibility standards and minimize disparities among member States, by agreeing on a common set of e-accessibility standards and implementation mechanisms. Having a harmonized set of standards that applies to all public-sector websites and mobile applications helps to boost the software and content creation market, including by reducing the cost of adopting e-accessibility standards, and makes it easier for member States of the European Union to exchange information on e-accessibility.b

The Directive is considered as the minimum requirements, which European Union member States are encouraged to surpass.

Implementing agency

Each European Union member State designates its own implementing entity.

As of 23 December 2023, every European Union member State will be required to submit a progress report to the European Commission every three years.c

The Web Accessibility Directive Expert Group was created within the European Commission to provide the Commission with technical and governance advice.

Supporting legislation

  • The European Accessibility Actd was formally adopted by the European Union on June 7, 2019 to create a common set of accessibility guidelines for European Union member States and remedy diverging accessibility standards.
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.e
  • Domestic legislation in participating European countries.

Policy scope

  • European Union member States.
  • Global software and public service providers in European Union member States.f

Action areas

  • Development of e-accessibility legislation.
  • Digital content in all forms (including the Internet, applications, audio and video content).
  • Computers and operating systems.
  • Automated teller machines (ATMs), ticketing and check-in machines.
  • Smartphones.
  • Television equipment related to digital television services.
  • Telephone services and related equipment.
  • Access to audio-visual media services such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment.
  • Services related to air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport;
  • Banking services.
  • E-books.
  • Online shopping websites and mobile applications.

Standards adopted


WCAG 2.0, conformance level AA verbatim without modifications for web content, documents and programmes.g

This standard requires member States to report on the accessibility of websites and mobile applications, describing the level of accessibility and indicating any inaccessible content.h

Governance mechanisms

Every European member State must establish governance mechanisms to ensure successful implementation of e-accessibility policies. Without prejudice to the above, specific rules have been set on the necessary features of national policies as follows:

  1. Accessibility statement.
  2. Feedback mechanisms to improve e-accessibility.
  3. Enforcement procedures and penalties for failure to meet e-accessibility requirements.
  4. Monitoring and reporting standards.
  5. Harmonized standards for e-accessibility of mobile applications.
  6. Deadlines for the implementation of certain requirements, including the following:
  • As of 23 September 2019, all new public-sector websites and applications must comply with the Directive.
  • As of 23 September 2020, all new and existing websites must comply with the Directive.
  • As of 23 September 2021, all new and existing mobile applications must comply with the Directive.

Policy implementation mechanisms

Under the Directive, the following implementation procedures apply:

  • Article 4: Member States shall ensure that public-sector bodies provide and regularly update a detailed, comprehensive and clear accessibility statement on the compliance of their websites and mobile applications with this Directive.
  • Article 9: Member States shall ensure the availability of an adequate and effective enforcement procedure to guarantee compliance with this Directive.i

The same provisions are reaffirmed in articles 4.1 and 4.2.

a   2.12.2016 EN Official Journal of the European Union L 327/1. (Legislative acts) – DIRECTIVE (EU) 2016/2102 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 26 October 2016 on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies.

b   See footnote a.

c   Accessibility of public sector websites and mobile apps – 2018.

d   European Accessibility Act (EAA).

e   Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

f    EU Web Accessibility Compliance and Legislation – By Deque Systems – January 16, 2020.

g   W3C – Web Accessibility Initiative – WAI – European Union – Last Updated: 9 February 2017.

h   See footnote a.

i    See footnote a.

6. Conclusions from the experience of the European Union

Best practices from the example of the European Union

The example of the European Union, which uses a set of guiding principles to apply common standards to a highly diverse range of member States, is perhaps the model that most closely resembles that required for Arab States.

The clear purpose of the Directive is to identify and utilize the economic drivers of e-accessibility in the European Union in order to create a profitable e-accessibility market, thus driving down the cost of accessible services and allowing member States to meet e-accessibility objectives more cheaply. This approach also means that companies working in e-accessibility accumulate a wealth of expertise, which is then fed back into the existing market, which helps to promote sustainability while also reducing operating costs.

In 2019, the European Union made significant advances in the adoption of e-accessibility legislation; the European Accessibility Act and Directive for Member States had an immediate and lasting impact in subsequent years, particularly with the introduction of direct oversight by the European Union.[5]

At the domestic level, some countries have made greater progress on e-accessibility than others. In the 2017 and 2018 DARE index (an initiative adopted by G3ict),[6] France was the highest-ranking European country, followed by Italy in second place and the United Kingdom in third. In 2020, Italy was the top-ranking European country, while France came in second.

The European Union Directive on e-accessibility is a good example for policymakers to follow, since it is aimed specifically at national policymakers in European Union member States.

The Directive was introduced to help member States adopt common European Union standards, in order to prevent divergences which could otherwise lead to compatibility issues.

One of the explicit objectives of the Directive is to promote growth among private sector companies specialized in e-accessibility, on the basis that harmonization of standards helps to expand the e-accessibility market in the EU, thus enabling companies’ services to be used throughout every country in the European Union.

[1]     See footnote 16.

[2]    Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Canada. Official languages of Canada. 16. (1) English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada. Official languages of New Brunswick. (2) English and French are the official languages of New Brunswick and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the legislature and government of New Brunswick. Advancement of status and use. (3) Nothing in this Charter limits the authority of Parliament or a legislature to advance the equality of status or use of English and French.

[3]   See footnote 16.

[4]   The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) – VPAT.

[5]    See footnote 44.

[6]   See footnote 23.