To make technology goods and services accessible for people with functional impairments, such as disabled people, elderly people and people with impaired reading ability, the European Union (EU) in 2019 adopted a new directive – the European Accessibility Act (the Directive). The Directive set out new product rules for electronic goods and online services in order to better accommodate their use by everyone. It will improve equality and social inclusivity.
New requirements for electronic goods and online services
The requirements of the Directive will be applied to such goods as:
- general purpose computers and operating systems if intended for consumers
- smartphones, tablets, TVs and other consumer terminal equipment with interactive computing capability used for electronic communications and accessing audio-visual media
- interactive terminals and self-service machines, such as payment terminals, ATMs, ticket and registration machines, digital information surfaces, etc
The requirements also will apply to several services:
- electronic communications services and audio-visual services
- elements of passenger transport services, such as websites, mobile apps, electronic ticketing services and delivery of transport service information
- consumer banking services
- e-books and related software
- online commerce
However, some service providers that are micro-enterprises will be exempted from applying these requirements.
The essential accessibility requirement for services is the ability to perceive the content using more than one sense, such as in both visual and audio form. For example, devices must support text-to-speech technology, provide the option to increase font sizes and enhance the contrast between different colours.
Accessibility requirements have to be followed insofar as they do not create a disproportionate burden upon the enterprises and do not alter the base characteristics of the goods or service. Economic operators must carry out an assessment of whether the accessibility requirements would introduce a fundamental alteration to the product or service, or impose a disproportionate burden on them.
Which economic operators are affected by the Directive?
Manufacturers and importers as well as distributors of products
When evaluating the compliance of products, manufacturers and importers as well as distributors of products have to take into account certain requirements of the Directive:
- Manufacturers of goods have to ensure that their products have been designed and manufactured in accordance with accessibility requirements. The fulfilment of the applicable accessibility requirements also needs to be stated in the EU declaration of conformity. The information present on the packaging, as well as any provided instructions, have to be perceptible in more than one sense. Any text content needs to have letters in an appropriate size and form, accounting for the conditions and circumstances where the product will be used.
- Importers are obliged to ensure that they only import compliant products into the EU market, as well as ensuring that the manufacturer has complied with the obligations.
- Distributors are under the obligation to act with due care in relation to accessibility requirements. If the distributor has reason to believe that a product is non-compliant, the distributor needs to suspend the offering or distribution of the product until the non-compliance has been eliminated.
All service providers must prepare the service information in accordance with the requirements of the Directive and make it available to the public in written and oral format, in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. Service providers must have procedures in place to ensure continued compliance with accessibility requirements.
Deadline for compliance with the accessibility requirements
Goods and services which fall under the scope of the Directive and which will be placed on the market after 28 June 2025 are subject to the requirements. Goods and services which were in the market prior to this date will have to fully comply with the product requirements from 28 June 2030.
Transposition of the European Accessibility Act in the Baltics
Estonia: Products and Services Accessibility Act will be applied in Estonia from 28 June 2025
The Directive is transposed into Estonian law by the Products and Services Accessibility Act, which was adopted by the Parliament on 30 May 2022 and entered into force on 28 June 2022, but will be applied from 28 June 2025. The supervisory authority overseeing compliance with the new requirements is the Estonian Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority. It can take administrative measures as well as apply fines of up to EUR 20,000 for non-compliance with the accessibility requirements.
Please note that certain accessibility requirements already exist in Estonia in specific areas of law, e.g. public authorities’ websites and mobile apps already have to follow certain accessibility requirements. The Public Procurement Act also provides specific award criteria, which may include accessibility conditions. There are also certain requirements in the Building Code, with the aim of ensuring obstacle-free use of public roads and public service buildings, as well as in the Electronic Communications Act and Media Service Act.
Latvia: A new law transposing the Directive is adopted in Latvia
A new law – the Goods and Services Accessibility Law – was adopted to transpose the Directive. The Latvian Parliament adopted the law on 16 March 2023. It will enter into force on 28 June 2025.
In conjunction with this law, amendments are being made to other laws: for example, on conformity assessment and public procurement laws. Moreover, some requirements that apply to electronic communications are implemented in the Electronic Communications Law.
The fulfilment of the accessibility requirements is planned to be supervised by seven state institutions, such as the Consumer Rights Protection Centre and the Road Transport Administration, with the relevant institution depending on the types of goods and services. Moreover, general non-compliant product and service rules apply. The responsible state institution may prohibit the offering of goods or services or request their withdrawal if it detects non-compliance. It is planned to increase the fine for placing goods subject to conformity assessment or confirmation on the market without having ensured that this has been done; it will be raised to EUR 4,300.
Lithuania: The Directive in Lithuania will be transposed into the new Law on Accessibility Requirements for Products and Services
The European Accessibility Act will be transposed into the newly adopted Law on Accessibility Requirements for Products and Services. The law was adopted on 22 December 2022 but will enter into force on 28 June 2025. Service providers may continue to provide services until 28 June 2030 using products that they have lawfully used prior to the law’s entry into force for the provision of services of a similar nature. Agreements for the provision of services concluded before 28 June 2025 will remain in force without any amendments until their expiry date, but no later than 28 June 2030.
Accessibility requirements already exist in specific areas, e.g. the Law on Public Procurement provides accessibility requirements for public procurement, the Law on the Social Integration of the Disabled provides accessibility requirements for buildings and the environment, and the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public provides accessibility requirements for audiovisual media. Thus, no significant changes to other legal acts are foreseen for the time being.
The fulfilment of the accessibility requirements is planned to be supervised by four state institutions, depending on the type of goods or services, such as the State Consumer Rights Protection Service, the Lithuanian transport safety administration, the Communications Regulatory Authority and the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania. These institutions can take administrative measures, as well as apply fines of up to EUR 15,000 for non-compliance with the accessibility requirements.