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Everything you need to know about the European Accessibility Act

Posted by: Laura Clark
on 14, Jun 2022
from London, U.K.

What is the European Accessibility Act?

In 2019, a directive was passed in the EU, which states that, by law, private company websites, apps, interactive information screens and interactive self-service terminals, must become accessible to all users. Since then, each of the EU member states has been looking at how they will implement and monitor the directive, and what penalties to enforce within their country. They are all obliged to report back by 28th June 2022.

The private sector will then have 3 years, by no later than 28th June 2025, to make their digital content accessible to the EU-agreed standard.

Although much of this is vague until we have heard from each member state, there are important things we already know.

The European Commission state, “The European accessibility act covers products and services that have been identified as being most important for persons with disabilities while being most likely to have diverging accessibility requirements across EU countries.”

These products and services are listed as:

  • Computers and operating systems
  • ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines
  • smartphones
  • TV equipment related to digital television services
  • Telephony services and related equipment
  • Access to audio-visual media services such as television broadcasts and related consumer equipment
  • Services related to air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport
  • Banking services
  • e-books
  • e-commerce

This covers just about every organisation working in SAAS, tech, tourism, travel, utilities, finance and retail.

Currently the only exclusions are for micro organisations, defined in Europe as a company with less than 10 employees and a turnover under €2 million.

EAA timeline

In June 2019 European Union publishes the EAA:

  • 28th June 2022 EU member states make the directive a regulation
  • 28th June 2025 EU member states must start applying the measures
  • 2030 Deadline for services to stop using inaccessible products which were already in use before 28 June 2025
  • 2030 is also the year that EU member states must start reporting on the Act.

Does this apply to the UK?

Although the UK was involved in creating the directive, due to Brexit we do not need to implement it, and, as far as we know, there are no immediate plans to do so. However, anyone trading in or with Europe will need to comply with the new regulations, and we strongly recommend that a business should future proof themselves by meeting the accessibility requirements as soon as possible.

Will I be sued?

The biggest motivators to become accessible are brand reputation, positive D&I policies, appealing to as wide a customer base as possible, and simply because it is the right thing to do.

However, although it is early days, it is not impossible to imagine that British businesses may be sued for non-compliance with the European Accessibility Act if they trade-in or with EU member states. For example, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has caught many UK companies by surprise including:

  • Reiss
  • JD Sports
  • Hobbs
  • Net a porter
  • Jigsaw
  • Jo Malone
  • Lush
  • Hotel Chocolat
  • Superdry

In less than an hour of research, we found 39 UK companies who had all been sued under the ADA.

Those working in digital accessibility, especially in the UK, have for many years been debating if the stick or the carrot is the best approach to encourage companies to make their digital content accessible. Despite legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector 2018 accessibility regulation, the carrot has been the primary motivator with organisations adopting accessible practices because they know it is the right thing to do.

Nevertheless, even if you are a UK-based business, if you are trading in the USA or Europe (from 2025) you will need to meet accessibility regulations or face severe financial penalties.

The business case for accessibility

Aside from potential litigation under the ADA in the USA, the EAA in Europe, and yes, it has happened, the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, there are other, perhaps more compelling reasons why accessibility is good for businesses.

It is estimated that 75% of people with disabilities will click away from a website that is inaccessible, in the UK alone this click away pound is worth £17.1 billion a year.

For anyone thinking they don’t need to make their content accessible because they don’t have disabled customers – how do you know they’re not just clicking away and spending that money elsewhere? But what if you don’t trade overseas? There’s no need to do anything, right? Well, what if your business model does grow and you want to trade in the EU or USA? If you’ve already built the solid foundations necessary, you can go right ahead and focus on doing what you do well rather than worry about becoming compliant with your accessibility first. And do you really believe that the UK won’t adopt a similar law in the very near future? Best to be ready and watch everybody else scramble at the last minute.

In the UK 1 in 5 adults of working age has a disability, don’t just think of these people as your customers but also as work colleagues. Anyone looking for a diverse workforce and all the benefits that can bring in terms of talent and the diversity of ideas and viewpoints needs to consider how easily people can find and apply for roles which is just as important as providing the tools they need to succeed in those roles.

It really is a wonderful cycle, having an inclusive website allows people to find out about you, it opens your business up to more customers, to a wider talent pool, and it can showcase that you understand the needs of people with disabilities, which, in turn, can help you gather feedback and lived experience to help you learn and continually improve.

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