The Ultimate Guide to Compliance with The European Accessibility Act (EAA)
The European Accessibility Act aims to level the playing field for access to digital products and services throughout Europe and beyond. A common set of regulations will replace country-specific rules to improve the flow of accessible products and services throughout the European Union.
The aims of The European Accessibility Act
By eliminating barriers created by diverging regulations among member states, the EAA aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services.
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?
On 22 December 2016, the EU Web Accessibility Directive was adopted, marking the first-ever European 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) as a harmonized European standard.
The EU’s 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.