It’s been some time since the United States adopted web accessibility requirements into their national laws, and now it’s Europe’s turn to embark on the same journey.
To date, the private sector in the EU has been largely unregulated when it comes to accessibility, but this is all about to change. With the introduction of the European Accessibility Act (EAA), many organizations in Europe, as well as those who operate in the EU, will have to take note.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Web Accessibility
While certainly important, legal compliance is really only one small aspect of web accessibility. Although enforceable rules and standards are absolutely necessary, there is still much more that needs to be done at the ground level. Businesses and organizations need to foster a cultural mindset that views the building of inclusive digital spaces as being fundamentally essential.
For the uninitiated, web accessibility basically refers to the process of designing and developing websites, tools, and other online technologies in order for people with disabilities to make use of them. Web accessibility addresses the needs of such individuals by aiding them in perceiving, understanding, contributing, navigating and interacting with a website.
At its core, web accessibility compliance seeks to create an inclusive website experience for everyone, and, more specifically, ensure that websites are built with disabled visitors in mind. It is important to remember that many of the disabilities presenting people with online challenges are so called ‘invisible’, in the sense that they are not immediately apparent or commonly understood to be a problem.
Many issues are also temporary in nature, such as a broken arm, and others are more commonly found amongst the aging population, such as low vision. If done correctly, website accessibility adoption can make a truly huge difference to the lives of people with permanent, temporary and onset disabilities.
Not only does it ensure that everyone has access to necessary - and in some cases life-changing - resources, but it is also good for business. Improving a website’s accessibility will have a positive impact on, amongst other things, SEO, Google rankings, and UX. So, if you are all about the bottom line, accessibility compliance is actually right up your alley.
The EAA: Some Key Dates and What You Need To Know
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a directive of the EU which took effect in June 2019. It fundamentally aims to improve the trade between members of the EU for accessible products and services by removing country-specific rules.
While the European Accessibility Act was designed to complement the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive of 2016, the two are not to be confused. This is basically due to the fact that the EU Accessibility Directive applies specifically to public organizations and their third party vendors’ websites and apps, while the EAA applies only to private companies.
Put simply, the EAA has a far wider reach than the EU Web Accessibility Directive, as it applies to hardware, software, and websites operated by private businesses, and is not restricted to the websites and apps of public organizations alone.
Another important distinction to make is that the EU Web Accessibility Directive is follows WCAG 2.1 AA, while the EAA does not explicitly reference any specific compliance standard.
In the following video, founding and principal attorney of Octans Legal, Jessica Youngs, takes a look at some of the key differences between the EAA and the EU Web Accessibility Directive:
After the EAA came into force in June 2019, EU Member States were given three years to transpose its requirements into their national law. In other words, within this timeframe all member states must have introduced a new law or have updated their existing legislation to comply with the Act.
To ensure that all member states are truly serious about the matter, they are required to produce an outline of both new and improved national laws by June 2022. The European Commission will review and assess all of these to make sure they are in alignment with EAA requirements. Three years later, in 2025, these requirements must have been implemented.
Needless to say, for some organizations all of this might seem like quite a headache, but in the long run it will be a massive benefit for web users around the world - and ultimately businesses too.In fact, take a listen to attorney Jessica Youngs, who breaks down the very real costs associated with having a website that is not usable for all visitors:
Some Key EU Accessibility Stats:
- 135 million disabled individuals in Europe
- 54% of organizations find that different Member State rules create barriers
- 28% of organizations find no barriers
- 18% of organizations find barriers to regional rules
- Cost of differing accessibility requirements in 2020 = 20B
- European Accessibility Act estimated to reduce costs by 45-50%
Some Simple Steps to Prepare for EAA Compliance:
- Publish an Accessibility Statement
- Establish a reporting procedure for disabled individuals and a single-point of contact
- Bring your website into WCAG 2.1, AA compliance
- Think of compliance by design
- Budget and plan for web accessibility
- Identify in which Member States you operate
- Follow Member States’ legislation and compare the requirements to the EAA
Planning for Website Accessibility Implementation
Effectively optimizing a website for accessibility is a complex and never-ending process that typically relies on many stakeholders working simultaneously, and so setting realistic time frames can often become a real challenge.
Educating your entire organization on the basics of how people with disabilities are using websites and navigating the web is a truly essential starting point. First and foremost, it will allow you to move forward with a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved in order to meet your accessibility goals. Learning the fundamentals of web accessibility and building your business case around these will also make it much easier to set clear objectives that can then be met in an orderly manner.
Before making any changes, however, it’s important to get an understanding of your website's current accessibility level. Performing an audit of your entire domain will help you to identify where issues exist, and allow you to evaluate how much time will need to be set aside to fix them.
Next, it’s finally time to take some action - why not begin by reviewing your website content?
Assuming that you are working with multiple stakeholders, this will likely involve assigning responsibilities to colleagues that can take ownership of any issues and deliver them to admin for remediation.
Monsido’s Platform makes such potentially complex collaborative tasks a piece of cake by enabling you to assign individual reports to specific stakeholders, immediately streamlining your overall accessibility efforts.
Ultimately, establishing an actionable framework sooner rather than later will save you a great deal of time and stress down the line. Making a start might feel a little overwhelming at first, but try to keep in mind that accessibility isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. Web accessibility by its very nature entails a long journey with many checkpoints, hurdles, and stops along the way - but the destination will be worth it for everyone.
Start improving your accessibility compliance and UX now with the following free tools:Get a free website accessibility scan, and find out how Monsido can help you manage your site effectively.