From June 7, and after its final approval by the European Parliament in March 2019, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) is available in the Official Journal of the EU and can be read in all the 24 official languages of the European Union. Now, the Directive will be transposed into the national law of EU Member States over the next 3 years (until 2022). It is a landmark agreement but its scope is restricted. Autism-Europe therefore calls for Member States to be ambitious and go beyond the provision of the Act when implementing it at national level.
The EAA is a landmark agreement reached after decade-long campaigning by the European disability movement. It sets common minimum accessibility requirements for certain key products and services that will help persons with disabilities to participate fully in society.
The EAA affects the EU’s 80 million persons with disabilities who have limited functional abilities, but can benefit all citizens and states encouragingly that it is “for a more inclusive society and facilitates independent living for persons with disabilities”.
Autism-Europe considers the proposal for the EAA has potential to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities throughout Europe. However, the final version of the EAA is disappointing due to its restricted scope. It is however a first step into the right direction, and it is key that the EAA is successfully implemented at national level.
Goods covered in the EAA
- Computers and their operating systems (tablets included)
- Payment terminals
- Self-service terminals related to the services covered by the legislation
- Consumer used for electronic communication services (e.g. smartphones)
- Consumer equipment used for accessing audiovisual media services (e.g. smart TVs)
Services covered in the EAA
- Electronic communication services (i.e. telephony services such as voicemail)
- Services providing access to audiovisual media services
- The following elements of passenger transport services:
- Mobile apps
- Electronic ticketing
- Real-time travel information
- Interactive self-services terminals (except those installed as integrated parts of vehicles). This also excludes urban, suburban and regional services.
- Consumer banking services
- European emergency number 112
Positive provisions in the EAA
Economic operators are obliged to take immediate corrective measures if a product doesn’t meet the accessibility requirements of the Act or even withdraw it from the market.
If one Member State withdraws an inaccessible product from the market the others must follow suit. This is of course a strong deterrence measure against non-compliance with the Act. Market Surveillance Authorities are given a prominent role and NGOs, national authorities or other bodies can represent individuals in court under national law.
The European Commission can adopt additional laws (so-called “implementing acts”) complementing the accessibility requirements of the Act.
A great achievement of the Act is also that it obliges public authorities to respect the accessibility requirements when purchasing products or services covered by this Directive.
Finally, it is highly welcome that Disabled Persons’ Organisations will work with national authorities, other stakeholders, and the European Commission to advise them during the implementation of the Act. They will also be involved in future reviews of the Act.
Some disappointing shortcomings
Unfortunately, the scope of the Directive is restrictive and fail to address many areas with regard to accessing health care services, built environment, education, transport, housing, and household appliances.
Also, any goods or services provided by a microenterprise is exempt from the EAA which could mean that innovative goods or services may not be widely accessible as microenterprises would have to burden a “disproportionate share of the costs” as opposed to larger companies.
Furthermore, certain requirements with respect to the built environment and the services covered by the EAA are left to the decision of EU Member States. There is some incoherence in the EAA whereby we see some goods and services becoming more accessible in their design and function but no improvements in the built environment where we find these actual goods and services.
The period of transposition by Member States is 3 years (until 2022) which is some time away. Moreover, some of the goods and services implementation timescale is a long way away, as far away as 2049. Autism-Europe, alongside the European disability movement, believes that the EAA is moving in the right direction for improving the EU’s laws on accessible good and services, we hope it is a stepping stone and that it will be soon complemented by more ambitious measures both at the EU and national level. The first report on the efficacy of the Directive will be available by 28 June 2030.