In Europe, over 87 million, or one in every five people, live with some form of physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disability.
Consequently, the European legislator found it important to establish EU-wide minimum accessibility requirements for a range of products and services to contribute to the proper functioning of the internal market and to increase social participation of people with disabilities in both the public and private sector.
This led to the adoption of Directive (EU) 2019/822 of the European Parliament and the Council on the accessibility requirements for products and services (the EAA). The EU Member States have the freedom to implement the EAA in their national laws.
European Accessibility Act
The EAA covers products and services that have been identified as being most important for those with disabilities and for which accessibility requirements vary the most across EU countries.
These products and services include, among others:
- Computers (e.g. laptops and smartphones) and their operating systems (for example iOS and Android);
- Payment terminals;
- Self-service terminals (such as ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines);
- Equipment used for e-communication services and audio-visual media services (for instance televisions);
- E-readers, e-books and their software;
- Bank services; and
- E-commerce (e.g. online shops).
The EAA applies to the first making available of a product on the Union market and the provision of services in the Union to consumers after 28 June 2025.
Service contracts that were concluded prior to June 28 2025 do not have to be amended until they expire, but ultimately on 28 June 2030.
Member States may determine that self-service machines that were already used by service providers prior to 28 June 2025, can be used until the end of their economic lifecycle, but no longer than 20 years.
Products and services must comply with the conditions set out in Appendix I to the EAA. For example, information about a product that is placed on the product itself, should be made available via more than one sensory channel (for example, in both writing and braille).
Another condition set out in Appendix I is that e-readers should provide for text-to-speech technology. One could also comply with the EAA by allowing people to change the size of subtitles when they are watching a show.
There are exceptions. For instance, the EAA does not apply to services provided by microenterprises (i.e. an enterprise which has less than 10 employees and an annual turnover of less than €2 million per year or an annual balance sheet total of less than €2 million per year).
Also, less strict rules apply to microenterprises that place products on the market.
In the Netherlands, the enforcement actions are laid down in the Dutch Consumer protection (enforcement) act.
This act enables supervisory authorities to issue administrative fines or to impose an order subject to a penalty. The maximum amount of a fine that can be imposed varies between the different supervisory authorities.
For instance, the Dutch Media Authority may issue a fine of a maximum of €90,000, while the Authority Consumers and Markets may issue a fine of €900,000 or if the yearly turnover exceeds this amount, 1% or 10% of the yearly turnover. Furthermore, it is possible to issue a recall in case the EAA is violated.
Once a recall is issued in one EU Member State others may follow to ensure effective enforcement of the EAA.
Public and private organisations as well as individuals with a functional limitation must be able to file complaints with the competent authorities or seek judicial redress. Again, it is up to the EU Member States to ensure that consumers are able to enforce their rights under national laws.
Implementation in the Netherlands
The Dutch government is currently behind schedule as the EAA should have been implemented ultimately on 28 June 2022.
According to the responsible minister, the delay was caused by the complexity of the subject and the involvement of multiple ministries. The Dutch government now plans to transpose the EAA ultimately on 28 June 2025.
Competent supervisory authorities in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, there will not just be one competent supervisory authority. Multiple existing supervisory authorities will gain the competence to enforce the EAA.
The Dutch Authority for Financial Markets will be the competent supervisory authority regarding banking services for consumers and for financial e-commerce services.
The authority formerly known as the Agency Telecom – now the Civil Service Digital Infrastructure – will be the competent authority for almost all products, except for e-books and services that provide access to audio-visual media services. The latter fall under the supervision of the Dutch Media Authority.
The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets will be competent regarding telecommunication services and e-commerce services.
Last but not least, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate will be response for elements of passenger transport by plane, bus, train or over water.
The EAA covers minimum accessibility requirements for a range of products and services. The Dutch legislator was supposed to implement the EAA ultimately on 28 June 2022.
It is expected that the EAA will be implemented ultimately on 28 June 2025, after which organisations may face sanctions in case of non-compliance.
Even though 2025 may seem far away, it is important to be aware of the EAA and what this could mean for your organisation.
This article was authored by Joanne Uiterwijk (Contracting and Litigation) and Laurent van der Bruggen (IP, Tech and Data), Associates at Fieldfisher Netherlands.
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