A young professional, with a prosthetic arm, who would benefit from the European Accessibility Act, works at her laptop.
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How to prepare for the European Accessibility Act

17 May 2024

Despite companies prioritising digital inclusion, internal resources continue to delay accessibility testing and implementation.

Yesterday (16 May) was Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), but with the European Accessibility Act coming into effect in just over a year from now, research shows that one-third of businesses are not on track to implement new measures. 

Testing and digital quality company Applause has released its third annual Accessibility and Inclusive Design Survey, highlighting the level of preparedness among businesses globally for changes linked to the European Accessibility Act. The Act will apply to any business seeking to trade in the EU and is set to come into effect on 28 June 2025. 

The Act will see new rules across a range of products and services, give people living with disabilities improved “access to public transport, banking services, computers, TVs, e-books, online shops and much more”. Businesses selling products and services covered by the Act must check national laws and regulations which should by now have transposed the requirements of the Act.

Bob Farrell, the vice-president of solution delivery and CX practices for Applause, welcomes the move towards improved accessibility, but argues that it shouldn’t be such a struggle. “Digital products and environments, including technology to conduct work effectively, should all be designed from the ground up with accessibility in mind”, says Farrell. 

Common sense

An estimated 1.3bn people worldwide are living with a disability, which is why, for Farrell, it is simply common sense that “accessibility for all” becomes a global mantra. 

In this day and age, accessibility features should be integrated from the start, but the unfortunate reality is, significant efforts are still required “to ensure technology works, and works well, for people with disabilities”, explains Farrell. 

Research from the recent Applause survey shows that even though almost half of respondents (44pc) prioritise digital accessibility, less than one in five (19pc) actually have the internal resources necessary to implement testing.

For Farrell, this disconnect between what companies want and what they are actually doing is indicative of the need for considerable financing in this area, as “prioritising accessibility needs to come with the right investment”.

Despite some concerning figures, the survey did reveal hope for the industry going forward, as it showed 87pc of companies “employ inclusive design principles” and almost four-fifths (79pc), “build accessibility into their design plans”. 

As Farrell sees it, this is evident of a company that is sincere in its efforts to design for “every end user”. Those that strive to “integrate lived experience”, particularly from those living with “vision motor, hearing and cognitive disabilities”, are the companies working to mainstream the building of inclusive applications from the very beginning.

He makes the argument that, advanced as we are, companies “shouldn’t have to do anything” to prepare for the European Accessibility Act, as these features should be ingrained in the overall company strategy. Businesses should be “delivering apps, devices, websites and other digital experiences that are functional, intuitive and inclusive”, says Farrell. 

Accessible future

Making the future accessible is, in Farrell’s words “imperative”, and there are a number of ways in which a company can seamlessly incorporate digital accessibility measures. 

Companies should ensure that vital resources, such as screen readers, speech recognition software, screen magnifiers and “other assistive technologies designed to improve the user experience” are available. 

Businesses should also be cognisant of their role in a larger ecosystem and when they see that employers and brands are “missing the mark” they have a responsibility to advocate for user needs.  

Action and activity are also paramount, as companies should strive to “be a part of the solution”, says Farrell. By engaging “crowdsourced testing communities that include experts and end users with disabilities”, the people who can make the largest impact are given the platform to do so. As Farrell explains, their insights and perspective will “build more inclusive digital experiences”.

Some companies have elected to use automation tools in their quest to align themselves with the expectations laid out in the Act, for example AI. But with just over a year before the European Accessibility Act comes into force, these tools should not be viewed as “a stand-in for real-human perspectives”.

“Many accessibility issues are simply not machine detectable”, notes Farrell, and any automation used with accessibility testing and strategy building in mind “should bolster, not replace internal resources”.

With one-third of businesses lagging behind “considering compliance is just the starting point for accessibility, many companies still have a long way to go on their journey to true inclusivity”, says Farrell.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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