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European Accessibility Act (EAA) – what is it, what does it require and when does it come into force?

5 July 2024

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a European Union directive aimed at making digital products and services more accessible to people with disabilities. The EAA places requirements on the digital accessibility of products and services to make them usable by everyone, regardless of their physical or sensory limitations. This means that digital products, such as websites or apps, for example, must be designed and developed in accordance with specific digital accessibility guidelines.

What is digital accessibility?

Digital accessibility is the design and development of, among other things, web content and applications in a way that ensures their full and easy use by people with different types of disabilities.

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) is a set of international guidelines that define how to improve digital accessibility, focusing on four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

WCAG consists of 3 levels of compliance:

  • A is the basic level,
  • AA is a recommended compliance level which is a global standard,
  • AAA is a compliance level that is intended for specialised software and products aimed at specific user groups with severe disabilities.

These guidelines help, among others, developers of websites, dedicated systems or applications to ensure that their content is accessible to the widest possible range of users, regardless of their limitations.

Graphic 1. Four basic principles of WCAG

Principle 1. Perceivable

Users should be able to use the site, system or application with the senses available to them. This is achieved through textual alternatives for non-textual content, such as alternative descriptions for photos and graphics, transcriptions, subtitles and audiodescription for audio and video material, and logical content structure.

It is important to use appropriate markup for form and table functions, highlighting that does not rely solely on colour, and appropriate text colours that contrast appropriately with the background.

Content and functions must be visible when the text size is increased by 200%, and the test should not be published as an image. The view of systems, applications, or web pages should be responsive – the view should automatically adapt to the screen width of the device in question.

Principle 2. Operable

Users should be able to find and use content and functions regardless of how they navigate. Everything should be keyboard-operated, with the option to stop moving content and no flashing elements. Page titles and links should be understandable in the context of where they lead.

Headings and labels must clearly describe the content, and keyboard-selected elements should be clearly visible. Complex gestures on touchscreens should be avoided, and the ability to disable and change keyboard shortcuts should be available.

Principle 3. Understandable

The content and operation of a website or application should be understandable to its users. Simple language should be used, difficult words should be avoided or explained in a way that is understandable to the viewer, and explanations should be given for abbreviations and acronyms.

It is important to define the content language in the code of the website or application, to have a consistent appearance and operation of elements on all pages, and to have visible and understandable labels next to individual form fields. Error messages must be accessible and understandable, with hints on how to correct them.

Principle 4. Robust

Content and specific functions should work correctly in different environments, e.g. both web browsers and screen readers. This is achieved through correct HTML-compliant code and accessible activity status information for assistive technology users. Assistive technologies should also report messages to the user as they occur.

To whom does the EAA apply?

The EAA applies in all Member States of the European Union. Obligations to apply specific requirements that oblige companies to comply with accessibility standards in the design and implementation of their digital products and services will apply to economic operators that offer the products or services listed in the directive. In the case of products, ensuring compliance with accessibility requirements is the responsibility of manufacturers, authorised representatives, importers and distributors, while in the case of services, it is the responsibility of service providers.

Products and services covered by the EAA

Products covered by the EAA requirements include key everyday technologies. These include e-books, general-purpose computer hardware systems and their operating systems, which must be designed to be accessible to all users. In addition, consumer terminal equipment that is used to provide telecommunications services and access to audiovisual media services must also meet certain accessibility standards.

Among the regulated services are services for access to audiovisual media services, which means that audiovisual material must be adapted to the needs of people with various impairments. The act also covers passenger transport services by road, air, rail and water. In addition, accessibility requirements also apply to retail banking services, the dissemination of e-books and e-commerce, with the aim of facilitating everyday activities such as online shopping and the use of banking services.

What are the penalties for non-compliance with the EAA?

Pursuant to the Act of 26 April 2024 on ensuring compliance with the accessibility requirements of certain products and services, non-compliance with the EAA may lead to fines, which, according to Article 73 may be “up to ten times the average monthly salary in the national economy for the preceding year, announced by the President of the Central Statistical Office in the Official Journal of the Republic of Poland “Monitor Polski” on the basis of regulations on pensions from the Social Security Fund, but not more than 10% of the turnover achieved in the financial year preceding the year of imposing the penalty, determined as at the date of issuing the decisions referred to in Article 56(1) or Article 65(1).”

When does the EAA come into force?

The provisions indicated in the EAA are expected to apply from 28 June 2025 – from which date all companies indicated in the directive will be required to meet the AA level accessibility standards.