European Accessibility Act: is it time to update your websites, products & services to meet Europe’s accessibility requirements?

Summary

From 28 June 2025, new requirements will apply across the European Union concerning the accessibility of some products and services for persons with disabilities. Directive (EU) 2019/882 (the European Accessibility Act or EAA) introduces these changes with the aim of harmonising accessibility requirements for consumers across the EU's internal market. It follows the ratification of the EU and all Member States of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The EAA has significant implications for businesses in a range of sectors, particularly online retail, banking, telecommunications, technology, media, and transport services.

Background

The new law focuses on products and services that the EU has identified as being most important for persons with disabilities while being most likely to have diverging accessibility requirements the EU. The EAA provides the legislative framework for common accessibility requirements across the EU for key products and services. Specifically, the EAA seeks to improve access to mainstream products and services that, through their initial design or subsequent adaptation, address the needs of persons with disabilities.

The EAA defines persons with disabilities in line with the UNCRPD, which recognises the experience of some one hundred and one (101) million people living in Europe (according to Eurostat estimates), as those "who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others". A very broad category of consumers is therefore protected by the EAA and, for example, age related impairments are also covered by the EAA.

Directive (EU) 2016/2102 previously introduced accessibility requirements for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies. The obligations under the EAA significantly extend these obligations, introduce an expanded set of requirements, and apply equally to economic operators from the public and private sectors, within the EU and to any service provider or manufacturer outside the EU that is selling products and services within the EU.

Important note: The EAA sets out the minimum requirements that must be met to comply it. Member States may adopt national laws that include additional obligations, may make certain voluntary requirements of the EAA mandatory, and include additional products and services in their national legislation. It is very important for a company in scope to identify what Member State law applies to their product and service.

The European Commission has a transposition tracker listing the laws transposing the EAA. We help clients to identify which of laws apply to their goods and services, and to track additional rules that might have relevance for them across the EAA.

Which products and services are in-scope?

We assist companies determine what products and services are in-scope. The EAA applies to the following products:

  • consumer general purpose computer hardware systems and their operating systems;
  • payment terminals;
  • self-service terminals such as ATMs, ticketing machines, check-in machines and information terminals;
  • consumer terminal equipment with interactive computing capability, used for electronic communications services or for accessing audio-visual media services (e.g. smartphones and TVs); and
  • e-readers.

The EAA applies to the following services:

  • electronic communications services (except for certain transmission services);
  • services providing access to audio-visual media services;
  • websites; mobile device-based services including mobile applications; electronic tickets and electronic ticketing services; delivery of transport service information, including real-time travel information for air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport services (except for urban, suburban, and regional services which are already covered by Directive (EU) 2016/2102); and
  • interactive self-service terminals for all passenger transport services;
  • consumer banking services; and
  • ecommerce services.

Delineating services to which the EEA will apply is an exercise with which we can assist.

Overview of accessibility requirements under the EAA

Annex I of the EAA sets out detailed schedules of general and specific accessibility requirements applicable to the products and services captured by the EAA. We work with product counsel in assessing the requirements that apply for their products and services.

The general requirements include modalities as to how instructions, support services and other information is provided on the use of products or provision of services; user interfaces and functionality design of products; functioning of services; and adequacy of websites, mobile device-based services and related online and mobile applications.

Additional accessibility requirements relate to specific services or products. For example, providers of consumer banking services and e-commerce services have additional obligations which include providing consumers with "identification methods, electronic signatures, and payment services which are perceivable, operable, understandable and robust."

The EAA also imposes detailed obligations on businesses dealing with products (Chapter III) and service providers (Chapter IV). The obligations applicable to businesses dealing with products differ and depend on whether they are, manufacturers or their authorised representatives, importers, or distributors. No such differentiation is made in respect of service providers.

New 'harmonised standards and technical specifications of products and services' are to be published by European standardisation organisations. Products and services in conformity with these standards will be presumed to conform with the accessibility requirements under the EEA.

Are there any exemptions from complying with parts of the EAA?

Exemptions from certain obligations under the EAA will apply to small businesses or 'microenterprises' – being those which employ fewer than ten (10) people and which have an annual turnover, or an annual balance sheet total, of no more than €2 million. Instead, these smaller enterprises will be encouraged through guidelines to comply with the EEA accessibility requirements.

For other businesses, a specific exemption may apply in relation to required adaptation of a product or service to achieve compliance. If such adaptation would (i) require significant change in a product or service that results in the fundamental alteration of its basic nature; or (ii) result in the imposition of a disproportionate burden on the business concerned, then an exemption may be available. Such exemptions would apply only to relevant features of the product or service and related accessibility requirements, will not excuse non-compliance with the EAA generally and certain other conditions apply.

To rely on this exemption, the business concerned is responsible for undertaking a self-assessment of the exemption's applicability, documenting this in writing and retaining it for five years. Where the exemption is relied upon, the business must notify it to the relevant competent authority of the Member States where the product is placed on the market or the service is provided. The analysis of the availability of this exemption requires care and we can provide a framework for assessment of a product or service in the context of the statutory tests, and assist with the notifications.

Are there sanctions or penalties for failing to comply with the EAA?

In each Member State, designated national authorities will be responsible for monitoring EEA compliance, including through the following procedures:

  • performing compliance checks on services and market surveillance of products, whether appropriate assessments have been conducted relying on the 'fundamental alteration' or 'disproportionate burden' exemptions;
  • following up on complaints or reports of non-compliance, and;
  • ensuring non-compliant businesses have taken necessary corrective actions.

The EAA does not set out specific enforcement measures or sanctions. Instead, Member States will be responsible for ensuring relevant authorities have sufficient powers and resources to enforce corrective actions and impose other enforcement mechanisms. The EEA requires that Member States will ensure "adequate and effective means exist to ensure compliance" under national law, including access to national courts and competent administrative bodies for consumers and other parties with a legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with the EAA (such as representative bodies). Penalties imposed for infringements will be "effective, proportionate and dissuasive" and accompanied by effective remedial action in cases of non-compliance by the relevant operator.

Future developments

All Member States were to have adopted national measures to implement the EAA at a national level by 28 June 2022. Those measures are to apply across the EU from 28 June 2025. A challenge for businesses dealing with in-scope products and services has been that most of the Member States did not meet this transposition deadline, leaving a shorter time frame for businesses to familiarise themselves with national implementing measures and to make their own product and services adjustments before the June 2025 deadline.

The 18-month lead time from now to the application of the EAA in summer 2025 may appear some distance away but the EAA's arrival signals significant changes to the ways in which in-scope traders provide products and services to consumers.

Act now

All businesses whose products or services are in-scope should consider the impact of the EAA upon their business and develop and implement a plan for achieving compliance by 28 June 2025.

EAA compliance planning should consider:

  1. whether products or services are in-scope of the EAA;
  2. what role your business performs in relation to an in-scope product or service (whether as a manufacturer (or its authorised representative), importer, distributor, or service provider);
  3. whether specific accessibility requirements apply to the product or service;
  4. whether the features of the service or product is accessible or whether changes are necessary or user testing is required; and
  5. whether ‘disproportionate burden’ or ‘fundamental alterations’ exemptions may apply and if so, how to properly conduct and document that assessment.

For further information, please contact Kelly Mackey and Deirdre Kilroy.

Information is correct on 2 January 2024.

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