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European Accessibility Act and its importance for PDF accessibility

Accessibility is vital for ensuring that everyone, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate in society. This article delves into the key aspects of this legislation and its impact on fostering inclusivity across the European Union.
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European Accessibility Act and its importance for PDF accessibility

axes4 GmbH
April 9, 2024

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Hard facts – European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act (EAA), adopted in 2019, is an EU-wide directive that establishes the minimum requirements for (digital) accessibility. The scope includes online commerce or e-commerce, banking services (e.g. online banking), electronic communication services (e.g. internet providers and their service points), passenger transport services, self-service terminals, services for audiovisual media (e.g. streaming portals), and many more. It's important to note that the EAA sets forth only the baseline standards, leaving ample room for companies to exceed these requirements and further enhance accessibility.

Since the EAA is a directive (and not a regulation), individual EU countries must ensure implementation into domestic law through their own legislation. In Germany, the so called “Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz” (BFSG) was created. .

How does it affect me?

The EAA is considered a milestone for digital accessibility, as it relates to products and services and requires the private sector to become accessible. Included are all enterprises which employ more than 10 persons and which have an annual turnover exceeding EUR 2 million or an annual balance sheet total exceeding EUR 2 million.  It applies to nearly all people who move in the digital space or within the technical infrastructure, offering something or accessing something online.

Drawing parallels to the American context, the EAA bears similarity to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Just as non-American companies trading in the US must comply with the ADA, non-EU entities seeking to engage in commerce within the EU must adhere to the EAA standards. Consequently, even businesses operating outside the EU find themselves subject to its accessibility regulations.

Importance for PDF accessibility

The EAA mandates accessibility standards for digital products and services, emphasizing usability for individuals with disabilities. While not explicitly addressing PDFs, the EAA indirectly highlights the importance of ensuring PDF accessibility to meet broader digital accessibility goals.

Many user journeys within an application function with and through PDF documents. When someone orders something in an online shop, they receive an email with an invoice in PDF format, operating instructions are often provided as a downloadable PDF. Let’s take a closer look at some examples.

Examples for PDFs online

The healthcare sector is increasingly going digital, with the ability to obtain electronic sick notes in Germany since 2023 and almost all documents available online, including those related to health insurance matters.

PDFs are often used, such as for membership applications.

In the realm of finance, PDF documents play a vital role in facilitating communication and transactions. From banking emails containing updates on financial matters to downloadable transaction summaries provided by online payment services, PDFs are ubiquitous.

Electronic tickets have become standard in the transportation industry, offering convenience and cost savings for both companies and customers. However, these tickets, typically received as PDF attachments via email, may pose accessibility barriers for individuals with disabilities.

When all of these documents are accessible, they allow for greater independence in navigating the health care sector, enable better control over one's finances (which promotes financial independence) and give more opportunities to participate in travel and mobility activities.

How much time is left for implementation?

The EU member states were mandated to introduce legislation at the national level by June 2022, addressing the provisions outlined in the EAA. These laws must be implemented by companies by the year 2025.

The laws emerging from the EAA will replace the current patchwork of accessibility guidelines, creating a more consistent framework for accessibility across the EU. Notably, the new legislation also extends to private companies, marking a significant expansion in accountability for accessibility. Previously, only public organizations were directly affected by accessibility regulations.

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