In less than two years, most companies will have to follow the European Accessibility Act (EAA). The directive, in a nutshell, is designed to improve the accessibility of products and services. If you know what the EAA is, then you are already ahead of the curve. But if not, where do you start?
The EAA is an exciting and progressive step to improve accessibility online. On the other hand, it can also be daunting to think of scaling all software and products. Especially if you have challenges to creating a user-friendly online experience, whether due to understaffing, budget, or other barriers.
Additionally, the EAA stays in line with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in the U.S. If you are familiar with the WCAG, then that’s good news —- that familiarization may also help. A major difference, however, is that the WCAG are guidelines. The EAA is legally binding and could likely result in fines or other penalties. Another important reason to create a strategy now.
Let’s dive into the main points, as well as how to prepare before the 2025 deadline.
UPDATE – July 27, 2023: The White House announced on July 25, 2023 – just before the 33rd anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act – the introduction of a new rule to make government mobile apps and websites accessible. Before the EAA was established, public and government entities scaled accessibility standards online in Europe as a first step. This move by the White House illustrates how accessibility will soon become the global standard. Stay tuned for more information.
What is the European Accessibility Act?
The European Accessibility Act went into law on June 28, 2022. Full compliance for private companies is expected by June 28, 2025. As a directive, each Member State of the European Union (EU) was required to write their own rules. While the act includes all of Europe, each Member State is allowed to create varying guidelines depending on their jurisdiction.
In short, the goals are to:
- Provide legal guidelines to make products/services more accessible
- Facilitate smooth international transactions
- Increase products/services that are useful to everyone
A Move in a More Ethical Direction
In Europe, more than 50% of people have a disability. This does not account for people with temporary disabilities or other groups, such as older individuals.
Benefits of meeting WCAG and EAA standards could include:
- Cross-border trading with other nations without issue
- Creation of new jobs—people with disabilities may have more opportunities to use their expertise
- Decreasing the cost of accessible products
- Opening products and services to millions of people with disabilities
- Building a better brand image by valuing everyone equally
- Constructing a digital ecosystem where people can more easily adapt/be productive
Inclusivity has been proven to be the cornerstone of innovation time and time again. When a design is created for one, oftentimes that leads to more efficient products for everyone.
If you are curious to learn more, check out our 2023 Disability Statistics in the US, EU, and UK guide.
Who will be impacted by the new directive?
If you do business in the European Union, you will be expected to meet compliance with the EAA. Some entities, such as micro-enterprises or firms with fewer than 10 employees and under an annual revenue, will be excluded.
What products and software will be impacted?
According to the directive, the following products and services will be impacted:
- 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
How will these services and products be impacted?
The EAA mirrors the WCAG in many ways. Four key components, known as the POUR Principles, were originally outlined in the WCAG. In brief, the POUR principles are:
- Perceivable – Users must be aware of information and interface components.
- Operable – An interface has to include interactions a user can perform.
- Understandable – Users must understand information, as well as how to operate the website.
- Robust – Content must be able to be accessed on various technologies, such as speech recognition software or other software/hardware, as it ages.
Websites often fall short under these areas when it comes to accessibility. To give a big-picture idea, WCAG failures were detected on 96.3% of the top website homepages.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) also touches on how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
Will there be any fines or penalties associated with noncompliance?
At this time it is not entirely clear what the penalties will be, though firms should expect there will be associated fines. Fines may depend upon the region. Allegedly, punishments for noncompliance could be as severe as shutting down a website that is not accessible.
How will it affect testers, developers, and other QA clients?
It will not cut it to develop an app or website with limited testing. European legislators have mentioned several ways that the European Accessibility Act could benefit society. One of those ways is providing more jobs for people with disabilities, including becoming A11y testers. Over time, the directive may result in a more streamlined, effective, and usable digital interface that could up productivity.
Preparing for the European Accessibility Act
While the enactment of the directive may seem far away, it can take time to scale and implement these changes.
According to statistics, when the deadline for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was due, 80% of companies were not compliant. Almost one third of companies had not even begun to meet the compliance standards. This gives an idea about how challenging it can be to scale when a new law is introduced.
Two years may seem like it is far away. In reality, that is not a long time. The best way to prepare is to get familiar with the EAA before the deadline is looming. Here are a few tips:
1. It’s never too early to put guidelines in place.
When a deadline is far away, it can be easy to procrastinate. But there is nothing worse than waiting until the last minute. Your company could receive fines at the best or suffer permanent damage to your reputation at the worst.
2. Stay up to date on changes with the EAA.
Some smaller firms may not have the luxury of hiring a lawyer or staffing a designated legal department. Always ask for legal advice from an attorney. Keep in mind that local jurisdictions will differ. If you have partners or customers in the EU, be sure to do your homework. Networking with European partners and staying up to date on the latest news will help to stay ahead of any surprises.
3. Keep team members looped into the planning.
It is essential for your team to know about any changes. Also, they will need to be trained if their job requires them to understand the EAA.
4. Keep budgeting in mind.
There may need to be updates on your web page or other areas you were not planning on making. Whenever a new law is enacted that impacts business, it can be a good idea to put money aside if you can.
5. Learn from the accessibility experts.
While we cannot give legal advice, vendors like us at PLUS QA are experienced when it comes to understanding the needs of our clients — especially when accessibility is a concern. We have forged a relationship with the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Also, we currently follow the WCA Guidelines, so we can help you audit your website for accessibility standards.
6. Legal compliance is not the only end game.
Hear us out: Staying within the confines of the law is mandatory. But when we meet standards for the individual need, oftentimes this leads to a better world for all of us. Besides, who does’nt want to live in a world where everyone can make sense of the growing digital landscape?
KEY TAKEAWAY – As people grow more reliant on technology, the European Accessibility Act puts a focus on accessibility for everyone. Already in effect, the deadline to meet EAA compliance is June 28, 2025. This means all firms with customers or clients in Europe will need to follow it. Otherwise, they may face legal or reputational damage. On the bright side, putting accessibility testing front and center could lead to a better, more productive digital ecosystem.
If you are ready to take the first step into making your software and hardware more accessible, contact us today. We are always ready to answer your questions.