Web Accessibility in Europe and the UK
What are Digital Accessibility Laws in the U.K. and E.U.?
The digital accessibility landscape in the European Union and the United Kingdom is significantly clearer than the United States, where the Americans with Disabilities Act has thus far been loosely applied by U.S. courts to provide some guidance–yet no legally explicit regulations or mandates–for making websites of private-sector companies accessible.
Accessibility laws for websites in both the European Union and the United Kingdom rely on the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the international World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Their latest guidelines, known as WCAG 2.1, further standardize the structure of digital information and functionalities provided online so that people with all abilities and disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with websites.
What is the European Accessibility Act (EAA)?
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) establishes common digital accessibility requirements and standardizes the market for accessible digital products and services, such as phones, computers, banking services, electronic communications, e-commerce, and transportation. After years in the making, the European Council finally passed the EAA in early 2019.
The EAA not only removes digital barriers and opens access to digital resources for people with disabilities and an aging population, but also makes it easier and more attractive for E.U. businesses to sell accessible products and services by eliminating fragmented accessibility laws and regulations.
What Products and Services does the EAA include?
The European Accessibility Act applies to any digital product or service, including digital content and connected devices, such as:
- Mobile apps
- Web content (video, audio, images, links, etc.)
- Computers and Operating Systems
- Smartphones and telephones
- ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines
- Audio-visual media services, such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment
- TV equipment related to digital television services
- Services related to air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport
- Banking services
- Telephony services and related equipment
How do Websites Comply with the EAA?
EAA legislation uses a set of standard accessibility requirements for many products and services. For the websites and apps, the EAA WCAG 2.1 AA. The act does not prescribe technical details on how to develop an accessible product or service. However, it provides for the development of standards or technical implementation measures wherever more detail is needed.
Timeline for EAA Implementation
Companies should realize the benefit of creating digitally accessibility products soon instead of waiting for the prescribed deadlines. Winning digital accessibility products take time.
The member states of the EU have three years to transpose the EAA into their nation’s code and six years to apply the act.
What is Exempt from the EAA?
Some exemptions that would apply include micro-enterprises, which are companies with fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet of less than €2 million.
Digital Accessibility in the United Kingdom (UK)
The Equality Act (EQA) of 2010 consolidated previous anti-discrimination laws. The EQA protects all people both at work and in society at large, prohibiting businesses from excluding anyone from services due to a disability.
Unlike the 1990 Americans with Disability Act in the U.S. which covered only physical spaces, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in the UK included “access to and use of information services” in the law.
What does the EQA cover?
Providers must make adjustments for disabled persons, whether they are an online service or a brick and mortar establishment.
EQA Guidelines and Outcomes
Like the European accessibility legislation of the EAA, the UK’s act similarly focuses on outcomes, using WCAG 2.1 AA as the guidelines.
For the digital landscape, the act mandates these digital accessibility outcomes:
- Take such steps as it is reasonable to ensure an equal experience for people with disabilities as compared to those without.
- Take such steps as it is reasonable to provide an auxiliary aid to someone with a disability if without the auxiliary aid they do not have the same access as someone without a disability.
- When the two requirements relate to the “provision of information,” i.e. websites, the service provider must take steps to ensure that the information is provided in an accessible format.
- Websites provide access to services and goods, and may in themselves constitute a service, for example, where they are delivering information or entertainment to the public.
- The duty to make reasonable adjustments requires service providers to take positive steps to ensure that disabled people can access services. This goes beyond simply avoiding discrimination. It requires service providers to anticipate the needs of potential disabled customers for reasonable adjustments.
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