Contrary to the belief of a unified market, the European Union (EU) discovered that fragmentation existed when it came to accessibility. They realised significant disparities existed in the laws and regulations between member states, creating a barrier to the free movement of products and services. That is how the EU Accessibility Act came into being. It should be noted that it’s unclear how this affects the UK at this time. With that said, let’s take a deep dive into this!
What is the European Accessibility Act?
The Accessibility Act is a directive built to combat social exclusion based on disability. An Impact Assessment, conducted in 2015, shone a light on the differences in national accessibility requirements related to goods and services amongst EU member states.
It was seen in the report that persons with disabilities had an employment rate of 48% as compared to 72% for those without disabilities. Additionally, only 26% of persons with disabilities were undertaking tertiary education.
To counter this rising concern, the EU released a directive to create harmonised digital accessibility laws and administrative provisions. This would remove any discrepancies between member states and develop consistent laws for the entire market.
It was approved in 2019, with member states having to adopt and publish the necessary regulations, laws and administrative processes by June 2022. The full effect of the legislation will be applicable from June 2025.
It covers various products and services such as:
- Consumer computer hardware and operating systems – laptops, smartphones, tablets
- ATM and ticketing machines
- E-books and e-readers
- Banking services
- Communication technology and related equipment
- Passenger transport services for air, bus, rail and waterborne travel
- Mobile apps
Products would require a ‘CE marking’, which indicates conformity with accessibility requirements. Member states need to create authorities and relevant entities to check and track this compliance. They will be required to follow up on any complaints or reports of non-compliance, taking appropriate corrective measures. Dissuasive penalties can be applied for non-compliance and market restrictions can be applied to the product. The directive also has provisions for consumers to take action before the courts or a competent body.
Products already in use and service contracts concluded before June 2025 have an additional 5 years to become compliant. There are certain exceptions for SMEs and microenterprises, who will be required to apply for an exemption. The directive shouldn’t put a ‘disproportionate burden’ on the entities, forcing a significant change in the product or service. But the member states will be required to verify these claims before giving any exemption.
What is the aim of the Act?
The larger thrust of this directive is to help create unified accessibility laws that reduce divergences between member states and ensure digital inclusion for persons with disabilities.
- It offers a wider range of accessible products and services to consumers with disabilities, at competitive prices.
- It increases employment opportunities and allows independent living for persons with disabilities.
- It creates a unified market and lowers any barriers to cross-border trade. This increases competition, thereby reducing costs for accessible products, services and assistive digital technology.
- It allows opportunities for SMEs, microenterprises and individual professionals, who might have been discouraged from venturing out of their domestic market due to additional costs borne by different national requirements.
What does it mean for publishers and content providers?
As e-books are included in the list of accessible products and services, publishers need to take heed of this directive. It covers e-books, e-readers, reading software and e-commerce.
Once the laws have been codified, international publishers would be required to create digital publications that match the accessibility requirements of the directive. This would cover the entire publishing supply chain with everyone involved in the distribution of digital publications. They will also be required to make the content available to users through accessible services.
This directive complements the Marrakesh Treaty, focussing on born-accessible e-books that are created with accessibility features. Publishers will need to comply by June 2025 and ensure that all e-books are accessible if they want to enter the EU market. Businesses will also have reporting obligations to inform the customers about the accessibility features. This brings metadata into focus and will be an essential aspect of the changes.
It establishes formal requirements to be satisfied before the content can be certified as accessible, which can be found in the directive’s Annex. Although WCAG 2.0 and EPUB3 Accessibility standards already exist, these laws would make the features mandatory. It would also provide EPUB3 creators with guidelines that they can use to evaluate their content. ONIX standards for metadata would also fall into a similar situation as they are compliant with many of the directive requirements but still need to be mandated with the final regulations.
A common issue is that many parts of the supply chain are unaware of their responsibility to uphold accessibility. Once the laws have been set, this should help clarify the requirements sought from every individual. Guidelines, training, tools and collaboration will become an essential aspect in the future, and many organisations have already started prepping for it.
What effect can it have on other markets?
This directive can have a domino effect on emerging and developed markets. Creating accessibility-compliant digital publications to sell or distribute in the EU helps lay the foundation for born-accessible e-books that can be sold to other markets. It invariably helps refine the quality of content and provides access to a larger audience.
There are over 135 million persons with disability in Europe who are unable to access essential products and services due to a lack of accessibility features. This directive is a step in systematically removing barriers and creating a seamless EU. Are publishers ready for the changes that are coming with this law? Only time will tell. Sound off below if you have more thoughts on the benefits and challenges of enacting this law.
Lumina Datamatics is a strategic partner to global publishers and ecommerce retailers, providing content, analytics, and technology solutions. We enable publishers to be at the forefront of digitalization by managing the entire publishing process – from content creation to product delivery, including feedback from readers and buyers. Lumina Datamatics’s expert solutions are a combination of its various in-house platforms, partnerships with global technologies, and more than 2800 professionals spread across Germany, India, and the United States. This global footprint services our customers across four continents: North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. Visit luminadatamatics.com or go to LinkedIn.