July 18, 2019

Accessibility legislation in Europe – a review.

Jane Black | Channel Manager, Document Accessibility
Document Accessibility Webinars

There are many compelling business reasons for companies to embrace accessibility. We recently considered some of these in two blogs; The Business Case for Accessibility and Digital Inclusion – A call to action. Inclusivity, improved brand identity, a better customer experience and innovation to name a few. However achieving compliance with accessibility legislation, which mandates that visually impaired and disabled customers have equal access to products and services, is often the first reason that organizations act.

North America has led the way in this area. The early adoption and enforcement of accessibility legislation and the ever-present threat of lawsuits for non-compliance, has compelled companies and organizations to make significant changes in the way they do business. This has undoubtedly made life easier for US and Canadian disabled customers in the area of web accessibility, by improving their access to online services, documents and information. Now finally, two pieces of legislation have been adopted by the European Union aimed at reducing the accessibility issues faced by the EU’s disabled citizens.

Back in 2016 the first of this legislation- the EU Web Accessibility directive, was adopted. This laid out the requirements that member states had to meet in relation to the websites, mobile applications and digital content, provided by their public bodies. The Web Accessibility Directive, in effect gave legal force to the W3C’s WCAG guidelines, which although comprehensive and highly influential, had not until then been a legal requirement. By enshrining the principles of WCAG in the Web Accessibility Directive, the European Union officially required its member states to achieve WCAG 2.1 Level AA standards.

Late last year, on 12th October, the final ‘implementing decisions’ of the EU Web Accessibility directive were published. These required public bodies, subject to the directive, to a) publish model accessibility statements on their websites and b) abide by specific timelines for compliance, monitoring and enforcement. The minimum timelines, published by the European Commission were given as follows:

  • Websites published after September 23, 2018: Deadline - September 23, 2019
  • Websites published before September 23, 2018: Deadline- September 23, 2020
  • Mobile applications: Deadline - June 23, 2021
  • First monitoring period for websites: 1 January 2020 and 22 December 2021.
  • First monitoring period for mobile applications: 23 June 2021 and 22 December 2021.
  • After the first monitoring period, monitoring shall be carried out annually.

The second piece of legislation, the EU Accessibility Act, was first published as a proposal in 2015. But it was not until November last year that this was agreed by all member states, and finally adopted in April 2019. The directive was published in the Official Journal of the EU on 7th June this year and therefore comes in to force. The EU Accessibility Act covers the following products and services:

Products:

  • Computers and their operating systems
  • Payment terminals
  • Self-service terminals related to the services covered by the legislation
  • Consumer terminal equipment used for electronic communication services
  • Consumer terminal equipment used for accessing audiovisual media services
  • E-readers

Services:

  • Electronic communication services
  • Services providing access to audiovisual media services
  • Elements of passenger transport services
  • Consumer banking services
  • E-books
  • E-commerce
  • European emergency number 112.

The deadlines for transposition by member states, to pass the necessary implementation acts, and apply the various measures that the Accessibility Act contains, are 2022 and 2025 respectively.

Going forward, it remains to be seen how Europe will deal with both implementation and non-compliance issues around the Web Accessibility Directive and the Accessibility Act. And whether the litigious fervor, seen in the US as deadlines are reached and passed, travels across the Atlantic. One doubts that it will, but whether by carrot or stick, European companies and organizations are now compelled to act, just like their American cousins, and this can only be good news for disabled people everywhere.

Crawford Technologies works with companies globally, providing software and services solutions that help them to meet their digital accessibility goals, achieve compliance and improve the lives of all of their customers.