The European Accessibility Act was passed by the European Union (EU) into law in 2019 to enhance access to all digital products and services, especially by the marginalized, disadvantaged, or persons with disabilities (PWDs). The EU-wide legislation aims to level the access to all digital goods and services being offered within the EU jurisdiction by requiring all businesses and enterprises operating or offering their services in the region to comply with their access enhancement regulations.
Before its passage into law, each member country of the EU had their own set of country-specific rules and regulations governing standards and rules of access to digital products and services. With the passage of the European Accessibility Act (EAA), however, a common set of rules and regulations would now govern the rules on access to digital products and services throughout the entire EU.
More On EAA
The EAA was a directive passed by the EU in 2019. Among other things, it requires private companies to make sure that all of its websites, apps, interactive information screens, and other interactive self-service terminals can be accessed by all possible users, including those who have physical handicap or are otherwise called persons with disabilities (PWDs).
EU member states are required to implement the standards and rules of accessibility required under the said directive. All EU member states are obligated to report back by June 28th 2022 their progress on implementing the said standards and rules of accessibility within their institutions, departments, offices, and agencies, including what penalties should be enforced in case of violations.
From that date onwards, companies in the private sector across all EU member states will be given three years to make their digital content accessible to all EU residents and users. Each EU member state is given enough room to comply with the standards on their own, but there are certain common features and minimum requirements that have to be met.
How To Comply
In a nutshell, all government public offices and agencies, as well as all business organizations and enterprises operating within the EU are required to comply with the standards of accessibility, as well as minimum requirements set forth under the EAA.
In practical terms, this means that all digital goods and services offered within the EU jurisdiction should make sure that persons with disabilities should be able to access them. For instance, e-commerce stores should have a way for blind people to navigate their pages. The deaf should be able to access downloadable movies, and the blind should have a way of reading e-books and other learning resources.
The standards and requirements embodied in the EAA were first proposed in 2011, when the common standards and minimum requirements of the EU Web Accessibility Directive were first conceived. The said directive was eventually adopted on December 22nd 2016, making it the first-ever agreement on a common European standard on digital accessibility.
Among the standards agreed upon by the EU member states were the following:
- The EN 301 549 V1.1.2 developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) as a harmonized European standard
- The European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC)
- The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)
The EN 301 549 standard sets forth the common and minimum requirements for all ICT products and services among the EU member states. All businesses, companies, and organizations operating and doing business within the EU jurisdiction are required to comply with a uniform set of accessibility standards, which are aimed at providing unlimited access to people with disabilities or different abilities to goods and services. EU member states are required to implement, enforce, and maintain compliance with such standards.
Legal compliance with the EAA requires all covered subjects and entities to comply with the standards and requirements of EN 301549, which refers to the standards and requirements enunciated in the WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards. These are sets of common functional accessibility requirements for ICT and digital products, goods, and services.
As of June 28th, 2022, all member states are required to publish their own respective laws, regulations, and administrative provisions in compliance with the EAA. All private business organizations and enterprises are required to comply with these published requirements by the end of June 2025.
The European Commission states that the EAA covers products and services that’d most likely be important for persons with disabilities (PWDs) to access since these may be essential to their daily activities. Furthermore, getting access to such might pose some difficulties for PWDs if the providers don’t make any changes in such a way that it’d be easier for PWDs to gain access to and use them.
Aside from web accessibility, here’s the list of the different products and services covered by the EAA standards and rules:
- Computers and their operating systems
- Smartphones and other mobile devices
- ATM, ticketing, and check-in machines in airports and seaports
- Services related to availing of passenger transport, such as air, bus, rail, and waterborne transport services
- Banking services, including mobile or electronic banking
- Shopping and purchases in e-commerce platforms and online stores
- E-books and other digital learning resources
- Audio-visual media services, such as television broadcasts and other related equipment sold to consumers
- TV equipment used in digital television services
- Telephone services and other related equipment
The list of goods and services covered by the EAA includes almost all business organizations and enterprises operating in information and communications technology, software-as-a-service (SAAS), tourism, transportation, travel, public utilities, telecommunications, finance, digital payments, e-commerce, digital learning and education, and both brick-and-mortar and online retail sectors and industries.
The only enterprises exempted from complying with the EAA are microenterprises and micro organizations. Within the EU context, they’re defined as those that have a company size of less than 10 employees or an annual turnover of not more than USD$2 million (equivalent to EU€2 million at a current foreign exchange rate of EU€ – USD$ parity EU€1= USD$1).
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a directive that requires all state and government agencies and institutions within the European Union jurisdiction to pass country-specific statutes that’d require changes in the way that certain ICT or digital goods and services are made available to persons with disabilities. This stems from the fact that many ICT goods and services tend to take for granted that PWDs (blind and deaf people, for instance) might have issues and difficulties in reading or hearing the contents of ICT products and services. This would also affect other essential services that require them to read or listen to ICT instructions.