Origins of the European Accessibility Act (EAA)
Nothing important just springs into being—there is always something from the past that led to its present creation. The European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights from 2000 and the EU’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in 2011 helped lead to the passage of the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
What is the European Accessibility Act?
The EAA is a law designed to create equal access for Europeans with disabilities by requiring a mix of products and services to be accessible. Before the EAA, the European Union was a patchwork of different accessibility rules. The EAA sweeps that away and replaces it with standardized accessibility requirements, “so the EU’s internal market operates smoothly by eliminating and preventing any free-movement barriers that may exist because of divergent national legislation.”
What Does the EAA Apply To?
The EAA won’t apply to every service and product but does apply to many of them:
- Consumer banking
- Video streaming and television
- Telephone services
- Certain elements of air, bus, rail and water transport services such as websites, mobile services, electronic tickets, information
- Answer to emergency calls to the single European number ‘112’
- Computers and operating systems
- Payment terminals and certain self-service terminals such as ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines, interactive self-service information terminals (Note: The deadline may be different for these than for other products. The law may “allow self-service terminals to operate until the end of their economically useful life” or for 20 years since being installed, whichever arrives first.)
- Smartphones and other equipment for accessing telecommunication services
- TV equipment involving digital television services
- Some things are specifically not included in the EAA, such as the materials of very small businesses or online content that isn’t being currently updated.
Watch Out for Important Deadlines
We’ve all procrastinated at one time or another and received a nasty surprise when the deadline seemed to arrive out of nowhere. Don’t let this be you with the EAA.
The EAA required that all countries in the EU pass their own “laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive” by 28 June 2022, so each country has already set their own legislation (or should have).
Each country’s EAA laws must come into force on June 28, 2025. It is 2023 now. A little over two years goes by in a snap. If you’re proactive, you can start preparing now so nothing comes as a surprise, and you won’t have to rush.
If you already provided a service prior to June 28, 2025, in an EU country that did not previously require accessibility for this service, then that country should grant you an extension until June 28, 2030 to become fully accessible.
Risks of Not Conforming to the EAA
Penalties will be determined by the individual countries of the EU. The EAA does offer some parameters for penalties, noting that the penalty should be adjusted based on “the extent of the non-compliance, including its seriousness, and the number of units of non-complying products or services concerned, as well as the number of persons affected.”
How Will the EAA Help Your Business?
- Equal Access: The goal of accessibility is to create usable experiences for all. Everyone deserves to be able to take part in as many aspects of society as they can and that extends to digital experiences. By pursuing accessibility, your business can be part of creating something truly worthwhile.
- Economics: There are over 80 million people with a disability in the EU. A business that prioritizes digital accessibility is more likely to draw in some of that market.
- Customer Retention: With an aging population, the number of people with disabilities in the EU will continue to increase. This is because old age brings with it certain disabilities, such as low vision, mobility, or cognitive disability. It costs more to procure a new customer than to retain an existing one, so make sure your customers will be able to use your products as they age.
The accessibility requirements in the EAA are not vague or narrow— “Specific accessibility requirements apply to all products and services covered by the legislation, provided these do not alter their basic nature or impose a disproportionate burden on operators.” Additionally, products need to be more than just sort of accessible, they must “be designed and produced to maximize their use by people with disabilities.” Services will be required to be accessible through-and-through—from making accessible features known to the public to creating accessible websites and mobile services to supplying accessibility support (like help desks).
The EAA encourages EU countries to regulate accessibility in the built environment. Each country that does so must align their regulations with the EAA’s new common building codes for accessibility.
Accessibility is not one-size-fits-all so different types of services will have different accessibility rules. As part of making products accessible, manufacturers must follow accessibility standards, check if products conform, and keep documentation. Manufacturers also must make things explicit by providing, “clear identification on their products and their own contact details,” as well as “easily understood instructions and safety information.”
Importers must check that the manufacturers did what they were supposed to. Importers are also responsible for contacting the government agencies responsible for accessibility regulation (known as “market surveillance authorities”) and for not selling a product that seems to be inaccessible.
Besides making their services accessible, service providers must have easy-to-find information posted about how their service is accessible. The EAA also includes examples of how to make services accessible.
How Will the EAA Be Evaluated?
The European Commission (the executive branch of the EU) will set up “a working group of representatives of authorities for market surveillance and services’ compliance and of stakeholders including disability organizations.”
This group is designed for communication and information sharing between different groups. As is the case with many far-reaching laws, the European Commission will create a report every five years on how the law is going.
What Can You Do to Conform with the EAA?
While the 2025 deadline seems distant, it’s better to be proactive and assess your website’s accessibility early so that you can create a plan based on your needs and goals.
TPGi’s accessibility experts are ready to work with you and help develop a strategy so you can achieve conformance with the European Accessibility Act. No matter what you end up doing, we recommend familiarizing yourself with relevant digital accessibility standards: the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and EN 301 549 (Europe’s extension to WCAG).
TPGi is a world leader in digital accessibility and is a consulting partner that provides expertise, accessibility testing tools, and services to support you on your conformance journey. Contact TPGi today to learn more about how we can help your organization’s digital products conform to the European Accessibility Act.