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What is the European Accessibility Act?

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) was derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The directive aims to enhance the way products and services are rendered across the EU. It does this by synchronizing accessibility rules for all member states.

The EAA was originally proposed in 2011 to complement the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive, which was passed in 2016.

The EAA came into effect in April 2019. Member states must pass the necessary implementation laws by June 28, 2022.

They must ensure the implementation of the accessibility measures contained in the EAA by June 28, 2025. The reporting and review period must be completed by June 28, 2030, and every five years thereafter.

What is the main purpose of the European Accessibility Act?

The Act makes certain products and services manufactured in the EU market accessible to persons with disabilities.

The main products covered are:

  • computers and operating systems
  • self-service terminals such as payment terminals
  • ATMs and some ticketing and check-in machines
  • interactive self-service terminals that provide information
  • smart phones
  • TV sets
  • Set-top boxes
  • E-readers

Services covered include:

  • Telecommunication services
  • European emergency number “112”
  • Access to audio-visual media services
  • Some elements of transport services
  • Websites/e-commerce
  • Ticketing and check-in machines
  • Smartphones
  • Television equipment related to digital television services
  • Banking services
  • E-books and dedicated software

The Directive will ensure that persons with disabilities will benefit from a greater supply of accessible products and services. This will enable them to participate more actively in society and the economy.

The Directive also contributes to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is an EU-wide drive to deliver new and more effective rights for citizens. The focus is in particular, inclusion of people with disabilities.

In addition, manufacturers and service providers will be able to sell and distribute their products and services across the EU. They need not adapt them to divergent national provisions. Imported products and services will also have to comply with these requirements.

What is the timeline for the Directive’s implementation?

The EU member states will have three years from the date of publication on June 28, 2019, till June 28, 2022 to implement the Directive as national law. They will have a further three years (i.e. up to June 28, 2025), to apply those provisions.

In the meanwhile, a number of transitional measures have been introduced. For example, products that are already in use, and service contracts concluded prior to June 28, 2025, may enjoy an additional five years before compliance is required.

The transition period for self-service terminals is 20 years after their entry into use. However, in most cases, compliance with the Directive will be required from June 2025.

What will change for manufacturers and publishers?

From June 28, 2025, businesses, including manufactures and publishers will only be able to supply the European market with products and services that are compliant with the Directive’s accessibility requirements.

In doing so, they will get access to the internal market as a whole. Businesses will also have to comply with certain reporting obligations. For example, they will have to inform consumers about the accessibility features of their products and services.

How does the European Accessibility Act relate to the WIPO-administered Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled?

The Act complements the Marrakesh Treaty. Its objective is to ensure that from their creation, new electronic books (e-books) are accessible.

It ensures that when e-books are created, the associated files include accessibility features, such as structured text and image descriptions.

The Act also requires that information about the accessibility features of these e-books is available so that customers with disabilities know what they are buying.

Beyond EU manufacturers and publishers, are other economic actors, such as distributors and importers, concerned by the Directive?

The Directive is relevant to all stakeholders in the publishing supply chain. These include: manufacturers, service providers, importers, distributors, authorized representatives and consumers.

Once the Directive is implemented, how many books will be available in accessible format in the EU?

The Directive covers all new books, published after June 28, 2025. The Directive also supports the adoption of best practice in terms of making e-books accessible beyond what is required by law.

What are the exemptions or exceptions that are included in the Directive?

The exceptions under the Directive include: micro-companies and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs).

A number of other safeguards from which businesses may also benefit have also been built into the Directive.

For example, the implementation of accessibility requirements is compulsory only to the extent that it does not impose a disproportionate burden or does not result in the fundamental alteration of the product or service.

Moreover, the Directive requires an e-book publisher to provide accessible e-books but does not require the publisher to produce paper versions of books in Braille.

How will the Directive be enforced?

First, businesses will have to declare compliance. Then market surveillance authorities and those authorities responsible for compliance of services will check that everything is in order.

Ultimately, consumers will be able to take action under national law before the courts.

Each member state will be responsible for establishing its own market surveillance authority and the authorities responsible for compliance of services.

It’s still too early to say who they will be and how they will be organized. But the member states will be duty bound to inform the public about these authorities, their responsibilities and the decisions they take when they become operational.

How will the EAA affect your business?

The EAA is for businesses based in the European Union or companies whose audience is based in the EU.

If your business is done solely via website, ensuring that your web content is accessible according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) should keep you in compliance.

For physical products, digital devices, etc. meant for the EU market, you have to adhere to the EAA’s accessibility requirements for products and services.

The EU believes that this directive will not only help people with disabilities but will also provide businesses with a single set of rules regarding accessibility in the EU, leading to:

  • Reduced costs
  • Seamless cross-border trading
  • A larger market (with the inclusion of the 135 million people with disabilities in the EU)

There’s also the angle of boosting your Corporate Social Responsibility profile (and a better brand image by default). You can accomplish this by providing accessible products to your target audience, reducing barriers (and improving user experience) and hiring based on standards of equality.

What should you do to ensure compliance with the EAA?

Depending on the scope of your business, there are a number of things you can do. As mentioned earlier, compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is paramount. This will make your content accessible to people with disabilities.

Here are a few other things business can do to ensure compliance with the EAA:

  • Talk to web accessibility experts
  • • Educate your staff on web accessibility best practices
  • Budget and plan for web accessibility upgrades
  • Stay up-to-date on the EAA as the implementation unfolds

Final Thoughts

EU member states are required by the EAA to pass necessary accessibility laws by June 28, 2022.

Every company that does business in the European market is affected by this directive and must prepare by making internal modifications to the way they operate.

Web accessibility remains key to complying with the EAA.

The EAA aims to improve the operation of the EU market for accessible products and services by removing barriers created by divergent rules in the member states.

By ensuring equal access, the EAA hopes to bridge gaps in the labor market for people with disabilities as well as improve their overall quality of life.

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