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European Accessibility Act; a game changer or another flash in the pan?

This blog series features personal stories shared by the EPSRC-funded INPACT (Inclusive Practices in Assisting Collaborative Technologies) panelists, who will shed light on the challenges of disability inclusion and showcase the transformative power of accessible AT. By sharing their experiences, the panelists emphasize the crucial role of co-design in ensuring successful technology adoption for everyone.

In the current era of the demand for embracing diversity, inclusion & equity, you probably also heard of “digital accessibility”. If so, you might now be tempted to forward this blog to your friend who works for the government – in the assumption that digital accessibility does not apply to you as a commercial entity. Well, think again & keep reading.

While many digital accessibility regulations in the last 20 years across North-America, Europe & Australia had paved the way for more inclusive digital world, the compliance scope had been rather timid & limited to the public sector. Not to mention the technological limitation scope as these regulations were confined to the sphere of websites & apps accessibility.

Thanks to the collective power of European Union (EU) which comprises of 27 countries, now the compliance covers much bigger scope of ICT that extend to the private sector & almost all the everyday digital services & products. In June 2019 the EU had availed the European Accessibility Act whichmandate the following to be accessible:

• E-commerce services (websites, apps etc)

• Computers and operating systems

• Payment and self-service terminals

• Smartphones and other electronic communication devices

• Video streaming and television services

• Banking services like kiosks and gadgets

• Telephone services

• eBooks

The EAA is mandated on every organization that either based or has customers in the EU. Bear in mind that we are talking about a market of approx. 500 million people in which almost 100 million of them are people with disability. Hold on, I forgot to mention the aging population group who are not necessarily “disable” but would certainly have accessibility needs. In essence, both the business case & the societal reality in the EU makes it imperative for this comprehensive accessibility directive to exist.

So, what is the deadline & what are the exceptions?

Between 2019 and 2022, all countries in the EU had the time to localize the EAA & enshrine it in their laws.

• Between 2022 and 2025, organizations have the time to find accessible solutions to the above list

• Post-June 28, 2025, the non-compliance measurements will take effect; lawyers get ready!

This is quite an audacious regulation & covers a rather extensive list, isn’t it? It is indeed, but as usual, “the devil is in the details,” so let’s find out, shall we?

To start with, exemptions can be given to small businesses to claim undue burden if they have 10 or fewer employees or have an annual turnover of less than €2 million. In addition, Article 32 of this directive gives a grace period as a transitional timeline until June 2030, providing that the service agreement was made prior to June 2025. Moreover, there is a maximum of 20 years from 2025 for self-service terminals to be accessibly compliant.

So, as we noticed from above, the EAA is walking a tight rope between taking global leadership in altering the accessibility landscape, and not forcefully roughing the feathers of organizations. Nevertheless, from my point of view, I believe that this directive is the most pervasive rhetoric of accessibility around the world today.

The question for the future, would the EU flex its market-reach muscles to force organizations around the world to be more accessible, as it did with the Data Protection Act a few years ago; & most recently, as it forced the giant Apple to do a U-turn on the charging power. Well, I am certainly very optimistic, not because of my “blind” faith in politicians, but because of the size of the European market & the pressure from the increasingly accessible needs of its population.