Wednesday, August 17, 2022

More accessible information on accessibility

By 28 June 2022, all EU member states had to transpose the European Accessibility Act into national law. Some countries made the deadline, the others are close. Companies have another three years until 2025 to comply with the new regulation, and the question is: what will change for the consumer? 

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) promises to improve the functioning of the European internal market for accessible products and services by removing barriers created by divergent national rules. From 2025 onwards, the products and services within the scope of the EAA will have to fulfil the accessibility requirements across the Member States. The European Commission hopes that this common rule set will lead to more accessible products and services on the market, cost reductions and fewer barriers for people with disabilities and older citizens when accessing transport, education and the open labour market. 

A key element in the EAA is the provision of accessible information on the accessibility of products and services. This intends to empower consumers with information about existing accessibility solutions in the market and enable them to select products and services that best respond to their individual needs. 

The lack of information on existing solutions is indeed a persisting issue. During the European Accessibility Summit, co-organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and Microsoft at the beginning of June in Brussels, several stakeholders underlined the general lack of information, the complexity of understanding the full range of existing solutions and the high threshold in implementing accessibility in their countries and organisations. For many sectors impacted by the EAA, assessing the effort and scale of the necessary changes is difficult. 

“There is a lot more accessible technology than is being used or that people are aware of”, one of the speakers at the Summit said. Also, people often don’t know what’s available regarding technology. The new obligations under the EAA to provide better information will not change that in and of itself. It is only one step in the right direction. 

It will also need a mental shift in how the manufacturers and service providers promote accessibility. Users need to be open to trying and exploring the solutions. One speaker said, “amazing technology is available and even more if it is paired with the insights from people with disabilities”. We can only agree. 

So let’s recap what will change for the consumer when the European Accessibility Act enters into force in 2025. Most ICT devices, e-commerce, audio-books, audio-visual and banking services, and services related to air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport will have to fulfil functional performance criteria to be accessible for users with and without disabilities. Manufacturers and service providers will have to inform their customers about what accessibility features their products and services offer and how to use them. 

Some sectors, like the manufacturers of mobile phones and tablets, are already well prepared. The GARI database, for instance, has provided information on the accessibility of a range of devices since 2008 and supports consumers in finding devices that work for them. Other sectors, such as the providers of many of the services mentioned above, are only beginning this journey. 

The next few years will see significant changes in the amount of information made available about accessibility features – an excellent development with GARI continuing its leading role. 

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