European Accessibility Act FAQ (Part 1)

European Accessibility Act FAQ (Part 1)

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I have not written for quite some time…expect a series of 5 or 6 posts this and next month about this topic since it will be important in the EU from now on, especially if you are in e-commerce, banking, telcos, or online ticketing systems business. European Accessibility Act is one of the big changes coming.

It is going to be a practical one (not written by ChatGPT). All about the European Accessibility Act, also known as Directive (EU) 2019/882, which is coming into force in the European Union in June/2025.

Do you know what Digital or Web Accessibility is? Many don’t…

If I’m color blind or blind, how do I use the internet? How do I shop online? How do I use my online banking? How do I buy an airplane or train ticket? Most people don’t even ask their self these questions. That’s where the standards kick in – WCAG 2.1/2.2.

The web accessibility standard has always been kept close to WCAG standards. The WCAG was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community that develops open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. The first version, WCAG 1.0, was released in 1999. WCAG 2.1 in 2018. And just recently, in October 2023, WCAG 2.2 was released. These guidelines are considered the standard for web accessibility and are used worldwide.

Europe is probably about 20 years behind the USA in this domain. In the USA, the regulations have been in place since the 90s. There are 10-12,000 lawsuits about ADA compliance (Accessibility for Disabled Americans) every year. Many of them for millions. Most of them are driven by 5 law firms, each with 1,500 to 2,500 cases yearly! 83% of the top 500 e-retailers have been put in court in the last 4-5 years.

So…what about Europe? Back in 2019, the EU accepted the so-called European Accessibility Act (EAA) that rules for specific businesses to become accessible. These include but are not limited to e-commerce, online banking, and online ticketing-related to bus, train, airplane, and telcos websites. The impact is that companies in the above areas that have more than ten employees or more than 2M euro revenue must become compliant by June 2025. Read more about it on our website – European Accessibility Act.

What are the consequences if I don’t become compliant? It is tough to say in practical terms since it’s a new practice, and there are no court decisions yet. What is clear is that there are penalties from authorities; you might get sued by hundreds or thousands of people for discrimination in each different EU country or even asked to shut down your business if you don’t become compliant after the penalty. My take is riskier than GDPR since GDPR is behind closed doors. With the Accessibility, everyone can check it on your website.

However, what does it practically mean? Why is this regulation at all? Back then, most people, including myself, just considered it like some technical requirement to be implemented, so you were not put in court. What does it mean for disabled people? I personally started using screen readers some time ago and tried to be in their shoes. The way a person with disabilities uses the internet is quite different. They use screen readers (VoiceOver, TalkBack, NVDA, JAWS) and keyboards to go over the pages. Then, the screen reader reads what it “sees” on the page. Or… does not read it if the implementation does not follow the standard.

I’ve been testing several fashion brands’ websites. I’ve struggled with several areas.

  • For one of them, when I tried to go over the sizes, instead of reading me the size, I just heard “size button”, “size button”, and “size button” …good luck with purchasing if you can’t really understand the size.
  • For the second one, I heard the correct size. However, it did not clarify what was available for sale; the visual impact was that it was crossing numbers/sizes that were unavailable, and links were not disabled. Only the Add to Cart was disabled when you selected the unavailable size.
  • For the third one, sizes were properly read, availability was also okay, and I was hoping it would be ok…well the size chart was an image. How do you expect the screen reader to walk me through it???

I’ve also been testing a sizable international brand e-commerce around home repair materials, bathroom equipment, etc.

  • Once I started going through the website, the categories and subcategories were organized, so it took me ages to go to the main content. Now, I finally went to a product description page. I had already gone through 20+ steps to reach the real information. What became worse is that while navigating with the keyboard through the page, at one of the actionable elements, it just sent me…at the very top of the page, I had to go through the entire loop again.
  • Then I went to select tiles. However, the input fields did not have proper names or labels, and I heard the “input text field” multiple times, having no clue what it was.
  • I finally added it to the cart, and a popup appeared…OOOOK…but why is the focus NOT on the popup? Why does the “X” (close) button not have a label so I can somehow close it.
  • I reached the cart page and tried to transition to the checkout steps… I did not manage to. It went in a circle, just looped. It was going something like steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 1…never reached step 6.

And the last use case I wanted to share… was my online banking. Even on the first page, the user/password fields did not have proper labels, so I had no clue where I was or what to enter there. The registration page was not better…once I managed to log in (obviously not in the accessible way), I tried to initiate a bank transfer… got stuck again. Most fields did not have the proper labels. I gave up…

This first-hand experience changed my perception quite a lot. Some people call it a feeling of guilt… Others might call it social responsibility. No matter what you call it, it is a fact that most European sites are far from accessible and discriminating. And we are talking about 100 million people in Europe with some disabilities. Most companies will have to invest in changing this over the next 18 months to become compliant…and remain compliant. In some cases, for more static websites, it might mean quick changes; in others, this might involve architecture changes, process changes, CMS/Translation changes, etc. From a technology point of view, European sites might be tougher to address because of the variety of different languages, payments, and country specifics.

In AIOPSGROUP we have recently started a BIG initiative in this direction, we already have a team of people with some disabilities onboard who can drive manual audits, and we know how to address such issues (most developers have not even heard about the WCAG 2.1/2.2 standards). You can check for more details about European Accessibility Act and Audits on our website.

The next posts will be more focused on the following:

  • What does it mean to be compliant? Is there a certification process? Are there different levels of compliance?
  • Monitoring Tools vs. Manual Audits approach: is it true that tools can’t catch more than 50-60% of the issues? Can tools automagically fix my site? What about AI?
  • How did we address our website, and what issues did we have?
  • Monitoring Tools comparison. Not all tools are the same. What works well and what doesn’t? Are they all telling the truth?
  • Most often seen errors and how to address them.
  • How can you embed accessibility in your process (development, deployments, environments) – you all know the rule that fixing something at the beginning is 10x cheaper than fixing it after it’s on production.

Stay tuned for the following articles! And let’s make the world more accessible. It’s our responsibility to take care.

Read more about our European Accessibility Act Services that we offer.

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Author:

Slavy Slavov

 Accessibility, Consulting and E-commerce expert

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