Key Features of the European Accessibility Act Explained

Understanding the European Accessibility Act

On April 17, 2019, the European Union made a big step to include everyone. They started the European Accessibility Act. This act tells companies in the EU countries to follow certain rules to make things easier for everyone to use. This directive requires companies operating within, or conducting business with, EU countries to comply with the WCAG 2.1 AA level standards.

This move marks a bold chapter in the realm of accessible design, with a looming deadline of June 28, 2025, for companies to comply. In this article, we delve into the essence of this regulation, its importance, and the transformation it holds for accessibility across Europe.

Global disability rights and accessibility

Throughout history, many minority groups have lived in a world that wasn't made with them in mind. This world didn't really think about their needs or wants. People with impairments have found this especially difficult.

Thankfully, the hard work of many advocates and officials has helped more people understand and support the rights of individuals with impairments. After many efforts, a big agreement called the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was introduced at the United Nations in New York in 2006. People started signing it in 2007.

It introduced pivotal concepts to all its members, transforming the perception of accessibility:

  • We should view disability not as an individual's condition but something that environemnt has caused.
  • We should consider impairments in certain areas a natural aspect of human diversity, and we should integrate the varying access needs these impairments produce into our societies.

In essence, it shared a vision where the right support in society lets people with impairments are enabled to do things, and not disabled. In this vision, the important role of our improving technology is clear.

Technology’s Role in impairments

The growth of technology has changed how we think about accessibility. In the past, it was hard for people with impairments to take part in public life or have a 'normal' life. But as technology improved, it helped highlight these issues. This led to new inventions as early as the 19th century that worked to improve their quality of life.

Technological advancements ranging from semantic innovations like the Braille alphabet, introduced in the early 19th century, to today's sophisticated screen readers, have served as powerful equalizers for individuals with various access needs.

Many of us remember when the internet was not the main way to get information, and most information was in print, like in books and newspapers. This way of sharing information did have features like clear fonts and good contrast that helped some people read easier. It was mostly just words and pictures that didn't change.

The web, unlike the graphic design medium, is programmatically determined, meaning  that instead of one piece of content tied to one medium with ink, you have one content that can be shown in many different ways depending on user’s access needs and device setup.

This innovation has enabled the vast majority of the world's information to be accessible through multi-sensory experiences, making it perceivable by all, including those with impairments in one sense or another. Observing how websites were designed, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) identified best practices for inclusivity and established the first set of guidelines, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which have continued to evolve and mature over time.

The gap in inclusivity

Although the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been available for over 25 years, many companies are yet to adhere to these standards, which the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) officially recommends.

The necessary knowledge exists, yet this has not altered the reality that 80 million Europeans remain inadequately served by digital sites and products. The following statistics underscore this discrepancy:

  • 94% of the largest eCommerce websites do not meet the WCAG 2.1 Level AA requirements, according to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.
  • 96.3% of home pages have detectable WCAG 2.0 failures, indicating a widespread gap in accessibility, as reported by WebAIM.
  • 83% of these WCAG 2.0 failures stem from issues with low contrast, WebAIM notes.

With the new legal phenomena on the horizon, this will no longer be possible. As a follow-up to being a member of the UNCRPD, the European Accessibility Act will change it all.

Launched in 2019, the directive required all European Union countries to implement laws and regulations to enforce accessibility for companies and devices.

  • By 2022, countries needed to propose laws to act on this directive.
  • By June 2025, these laws will come into effect.

Envisioning a world of accessibility

The act specifies the companies and services it targets, assessing the significance of their contribution to the public domain.

Specifically, the law will be enforced on services such as:

  • Computers and related devices
  • E-books
  • Online stores and e-commerce platforms
  • Banking kiosks, ticketing services, and check-in machines
  • Television devices and digital TV services
  • Telecommunication services, including apps, websites of providers, and essential communication services
  • Audiovisual media services, such as Netflix and Spotify
  • Transport services, accessible both online and offline, like ticket machines, apps, and websites
  • All financial services, including online banking

This list is just the starting point; accessibility is expected to extend further into all types of services. Although integrating these requirements may initially challenge many companies' product roadmaps, the move towards greater accessibility holds promising prospects.

With 80 million individuals living with impairments within the EU, a unified set of regulations benefits companies, individuals, and society at large.

Benefits for companies

The disparity in national laws and policies previously acted as barriers to the seamless movement of products and services across Europe. Standardizing accessibility regulations reduces production costs and encourages companies to expand their operations across different EU countries.

Benefits for individuals

For individuals with various access needs, the main advantage lies in their increased capability to live independently. As the EU's population ages and the number of people with impairments rises, enabling better participation in the digital world is beneficial for everyone.

Consider the time saved, the job opportunities created, and the economic boost from the increased purchasing power of this group. Most importantly, think about the positive impact on the lives of many, fostering greater empowerment and self-reliance than ever before.

Despite the short-term demands on companies, the European Accessibility Act is poised to open up numerous opportunities.

Highlighting the Potential:

  • Globally, people with disabilities account for over half a trillion dollars in spending (Usablenet).
  • It's estimated that for every dollar spent on accessibility improvements, $100 is returned in value (Forrester).

Dispelling the myth that accessibility investments yield minimal returns, the reality is far more impactful.

Moving forward

If the WCAG or web accessibility seems daunting, or if the compliance deadline feels imminent, don't worry. Dualoop is dedicated to developing products and practices that maximize value for both businesses and their users, aiming to include as many people as possible.

To accelerate this journey, we're launching several initiatives to assist companies in achieving European accessibility compliance, including this series.

In our next piece, we'll delve into the WCAG, examining its functionality and evolution in response to ongoing digital advancements over the last two decades. Stay tuned for further insights.

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