Of all the digital trends, web accessibility is perhaps the most important. Imagine a world with limitless possibilities existed, and you didn’t have access to it. That’s exactly how it is for people with disabilities who are denied access to the vast resources of the web because many websites just aren’t accessible.
A survey of the home pages of the top 1 million websites painted “a rather dismal picture of the current state of web accessibility for individuals with disabilities,” according to WebAIM. This dismal picture can be repainted into something beautiful with the deliberate actions of governments, policy makers, corporations, and individuals.
What is the EAA?
Deriving from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the European Union took a laudable step in the right direction by issuing a directive known as the European Accessibility Act (EAA). This directive aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, by removing barriers created by divergent rules in member states.
Originally proposed in 2011, this act was built to complement the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive which became law in 2016. The EAA took effect in April 2019.
When the EAA is implemented, people with disabilities and the elderly will benefit from more accessible products and services in the market, accessible products and services at more competitive prices, and more jobs available where accessibility expertise is needed.
On the other hand, businesses will benefit from; reduced costs due to common accessibility rules in the EU, cross-border trading made easier, and increased market opportunities for their accessible products and services.
What Does the EAA Cover?
The EAA promises to transform everything from cash machines to computers, e-books to e-commerce apps by making digital accessibility a legal requirement for any company selling products and services across Europe.
The EAA’s primary objective is to provide access to products and services for people with disabilities in the EU. It, therefore, covers a lot of private and public products and services including:
- 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
To ensure a unified accessibility policy and promote inclusivity, the directive harmonizes accessibility requirements across all EU member states. In addition, it outlines the obligations of economic operators, such as manufacturers, importers, and service providers, as well as standardized standards and the manner of conformity declarations.
EU members have one year to introduce the provisions into national legislation and four years to apply them. This means member states must pass the necessary implementation laws by 28 June 2022 and implement the various accessibility measures contained in the Accessibility Act by 28 June 2025, while the reporting and review period must be completed by 28 June 2030, and every five years thereafter.
Business Case for the EAA
Putting together the legislative drive of the EAA with the moral imperatives, there’s already a strong case for the EAA to be established. But, beyond that, there’s a business aspect to it.
When websites and digital products or services are accessible, the potent audience reach is increased. And I’m not just referring to the 15% of the world’s population that have a disability. Website accessibility makes it easier for everyone to use and engage with your content. Accessible websites will experience a surge in positive customer reviews and user experience.
Additionally, web accessibility helps improve SEO — alt text and semantic HTML which are elements of web accessibility, also help inform search engines about the content and presentation of a website. So, customers who have low bandwidths are included in the experience of your web content.
The EAA and WCAG 2.0/2.1 Compliance
As part of the EU Web Accessibility Directive, specific guidelines exist to make websites and apps accessible, namely the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). With the EU Web Accessibility Directive, public sector organizations across Europe must take steps to ensure their websites and mobile applications are perceptible, operable, understandable, and robust.
The EAA builds on the EU Web Accessibility Directive. Since the Directive references WCAG 2.0, one can safely infer that if your website is compliant with the WCAG standards then you’re on the right side of the law.
Take the necessary steps now, don’t wait for the deadline.
Without a general web accessibility standard, digital platforms can struggle to account for differing compliance standards and penalty schemes, putting them at risk of litigation while eroding the user experience. The EAA stands as a beacon of web accessibility unification.