The Ultimate Guide to Compliance with The European Accessibility Act (EAA)
Over 80 million people in the 27 member-states of the European Union live with some kind of disability. This figure is projected to rise due to an increasing population of elderly persons.
The EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights recognizes the rights of people with disabilities to benefit from measures that ensure their independence, social integration, and active participation in society.
However, varying accessibility legislations in countries in the EU were often conflicting, causing more accessibility issues than they solved.
Therefore, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union released the European Accessibility Act (EAA) in 2019.
The EAA sets the minimum accessibility standards for products and services across the European Union (EU). These include digital products and services such as smartphones, tablets, ATMs and e-books.
The EAA replaces country-specific laws, thereby removing barriers to accessibility caused by divergent accessibility standards in EU Member States.
However, the Act is a Directive, which means while it sets binding accessibility standards, Member States are free to decide how they want to meet them.
The aims of The European Accessibility Act
The EAA aims to harmonize accessibility requirements for products and services in the EU. By removing barriers caused by national legislation, the Act ensures the EU’s internal market functions smoothly.
Also, the implementation of the EAA will result in more accessible products and services on the market, more competitive prices for such products and services, and more accessibility-related jobs.
What Are the EU Web Accessibility Laws?
The EU Web Accessibility Directive came into effect on 22 December 2016. This marked the first time the European Union released a harmonized standard for digital accessibility.
The EN 301 549 V1.1.2 standard was developed by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
The EN 301 549 standard lays out the requirements for ICT products and services for all EU members to implement, enforce, and maintain a uniform set of accessibility standards in order to provide unrestricted access to people with disabilities.
For compliance with the law, the directive references EN 301 549 which references WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards as a set of functional accessibility requirements for information and communications technology (ICT) products and services.
Originally proposed in 2011, the European Accessibility Act complements the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive, which became law in 2016.
In 2019, the European Accessibility Act became law. By the end of June 2022, member states must publish the individual laws, regulations, and administrative provisions required to comply with the Act. These requirements must be implemented in products and services sold in the EU by the end of June 2025.
What Does the EAA Cover?
Most of the provisions of the Act relate to technology and to the products and services deemed most important to people with disabilities. These include:
- computers and operating systems
- ATMs, ticketing, and check-in machines
- TV equipment related to digital television services
- telephony 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
Who Should Comply?
Unlike previous accessibility legislation, which mostly applied to public-sector organizations, EAA will also apply to private companies.
In addition, even foreign-based companies (e.g., Amazon) must comply with the Act if they sell relevant products or services within the EU (e.g., Kindle e-books sold in EU countries).
Penalty for Non-compliance
European Accessibility Act violations will be penalized under national laws, but experts believe that member states may impose fines on those who do not comply with the regulations.
Exceptions to the EAA
This directive will not apply to ‘microenterprises’ – companies with less than ten employees and an annual turnover of less than €2 million.
The EAA and WCAG 2.0/2.1 Compliance
In accordance with the EU Web Accessibility Directive, specific guidelines exist for making websites and apps accessible, namely the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Across Europe, public sector organizations must take steps to ensure their websites and mobile applications are perceptible, operable, understandable, and robust, thanks to the EU Web Accessibility Directive.
EAA is built on top of the EU Web Accessibility Directive. Due to the Directive’s reference to WCAG 2.0, it is safe to assume that if your website is compliant with the WCAG standards, you are in compliance with the law.
In multiple sectors, the EAA defines accessibility as an overarching requirement and establishes accessibility functional requirements. It is a far from perfect outcome: the EAA falls short of the horizontal act initially envisioned and covers essentially only digital work. This is due to the restrictive position of national governments.
Despite that, the EAA represents an important step forward: it sets for the first time a comprehensive range of minimum requirements for businesses to make their products and services accessible to persons with disabilities.