Plenary vote results have weakened the proposed European Accessibility Act
The EUD followed a very important plenary vote on the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted on the proposed amendments to the EAA and adopted its final position before starting negotiations with the Council of the European Union, meaning the representatives of Member States’ governments. The EUD appreciates the support of all MEPs who voted for amendments that strengthened the Act. However, after examining adopted amendments and the final text we can conclude that even though some parts in the EAA have the potential to increase the accessibility for persons with disabilities, the Act remains weak – especially in some of the fields, which are essential for deaf persons. In the following paragraphs, we provide more details with regards to the current state of the act
Obligations for audio-visual media service accessibility as well as functional requirements for the implementation of these obligations:
For deaf Europeans, the EAA missed out on a big opportunity for a more accessible Europe, since the Parliament decided to keep obligations with regards to audio-visual obligations online in the draft Audio- Visual Media Services Directive (AVMS). The current draft of the AVMS Directive obliges Member States to ensure that their broadcasters increase the accessibility of media content, but without creating concrete EU level obligations. Therefore, countries will move at their own speed and are able to only do very little and potentially continue excluding deaf people from accessing audio-visual media, without breaching their obligations under the AVMS Directive. Furthermore, the AVMS directive does not contain functional requirements on how these obligations are supposed to be implemented, therefore, now broadcasters do not need to follow specific functional requirements that would ensure that the content is actually accessible (e.g. speed and visibility of subtitles, placement of the sign language interpreter window etc.) and deaf persons might still be excluded from audio-visual content. However, accessibility requirements and corresponding functional requirements for the implementation of these obligations will apply with regards to websites and mobile device-based services that make audio-visual media services available.
Accessibility of telephony services, including emergency services
On a positive note, the EAA obliges that telephony services, including emergency services, must provide at least one mode of operation that does not require hearing, which is progress with regards of the accessibility of these services for deaf Europeans. In order to address the needs of persons with disabilities, interoperability must be achieved by supporting voice, video and real time text communication, alone or in combination (total conversation), between two users, or between a user and an emergency service. Furthermore, support services shall provide information on the accessibility of the service and its compatibility with assistive technologies, in accessible modes of communication. Moreover, the related equipment must ensure interoperability, which must be achieved by supporting high fidelity audio, a video resolution enabling sign language communication, real time text alone or in combination with voice and video communication or by ensuring effective wireless coupling to hearing technologies.
The application of accessibility requirements by microenterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs):
The EAA will not apply to microenterprises that manufacture, import or distribute products and provide and services that fall within its scope. Microenterprises will not have to make their products and services (such as e-commerce and e-books) accessible. Concerning SMEs, they only need to notify the authorities in case their products and services are not accessible. This means that inaccessible products and services can still be sold in the internal market, which will make it complicated for consumers to distinguish, which products and services are accessible and which are not.
We regret that several crucial points were left out. We will continue to collaborate with the European Disability Forum in the next stages of the process to advocate for making the Act stronger. This process will continue at the Council but also during the negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission (trilogue) in the following months.