What is it called?
The European Accessibility Act ("EAA") introduces new requirements in respect of accessibility for products and services. It aims to benefit those with disabilities or other functional impairments and sets out a framework of high-level accessibility requirements.
These requirements will be implemented by Member States at a national level and supplemented by harmonised technical standards, or implementing acts establishing technical specifications in the absence of technical standards. Where applicable to products, these requirements will be part of the CE marking regime – so manufacturers need to be ready to understand and implement any required changes.
What is being proposed?
The focus of the EAA accessibility requirements is on the ways in which consumers interact with technology, to ensure that it remains accessible to all; for example, by requiring more than one sensory channel for communicating with some products.
The EAA applies to products and services that come on the market six years after the entry into force of the EAA (which is 28 June 2025), with an additional transition period for some service providers (such as those whose facilities are lawfully in use prior to 28 June 2025).
Who and what will it apply to?
The EAA accessibility requirements will apply to the following products and services, setting out requirements for manufacturers, importers, authorised representatives and service providers.
- Products, including computer hardware systems (such as notebooks, smartphones and tablets) and their operating systems (including free standing software operating systems), self-service terminals, consumer equipment used for accessing (as opposed to only creating) audio-visual media services (such as TV broadcasts and on-demand services), consumer equipment for the provision of electronic communication services and e-readers.
The EAA brings accessibility requirements, where they apply to a product, within the scope of the CE marking regime and creates additional requirements for the packaging and information and warnings provided with such products.
- Services, including electronic communication services, those providing access to audio-visual media services, e-books and e-commerce services, including online retail.
Products and services must comply with the requirements set out in Annex I of the EAA. For example, requirements include:
- Labelling, written instructions and warnings must be made available via more than one sensory channel and presented in an understandable and perceivable way, and in fonts of adequate size and suitable shape.
- User interface and functionality must allow persons with disabilities to use the product effectively, including by ensuring that: (i) communicating, operating and controlling the device can be done by more than one sensory channel; (ii) where speech, colour or audible signals are used to convey information, alternatives must be provided; (iii) where manual actions are required, at least one mode of operation must not require fine motor skills; and (iv) the product must have software and hardware for interfacing with the assistive technologies.
- Support services (including help desks, call centres and training services) must provide information on the accessibility of the product /service and its compatibility with assistive technologies, in accessible modes of communication.
The EAA's accessibility requirements will only apply to the extent that they: (i) do not introduce a significant change in a product or service that results in the fundamental alteration of its basic nature, and (ii) do not impose a disproportionate burden on the economic operators concerned.
Why does it matter?
The EAA is a landmark move towards improving the accessibility of products (including software products in the form of free standing operating systems) and services. Manufacturersand service providers should be looking at the new provisions, understanding the extent to which they will apply to their products / services, getting ready to understand the harmonized standardsor implementing acts (once published) and ensuring they are in a position to comply when the new rules come into force.
There are specific provisions for particular products and services such as e-books and e-readers, e-commerce services, products used for accessing audiovisual media services and for electronic communication services. Moreover, the EAA contains a mechanism for bringing more products and services within scope in the future, so it would be worth having regard to the principles set out in the EAA at a design and development stage of a wide range of consumer technology products.
Originally Published by Cooley, November 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.