European Accessibility Act: Article 32, and why it sucks!
I recently wrote a blog post called European Accessibility Act: What you need to know and it created a bit of a stir, and a really interesting question came up around Article 32, which is all about transitional measures.
Now, you might be thinking, 'Transitional what?' So let's dive into it together and try to make sense of it.
Before we start, I just want to caveat this article with the fact that I have a huge chip on my shoulder.
I hate how much of the burden of accessibility is still on the user, and how little is on the organisations which offer the products or services, and this definitely is reflected in my writing style. My tone is one of frustration, and perhaps even a bit petty in places. I'm aware of this, and I'm trying to own it up-front.
If you're an accessibility specialist, I know you'll get it. But, if you're not, and you're here to try and genuiely find out what you need to do to get your organisation ready for the changes, please accept my apologies and read on anyway, because despite my frustrated tone, I've genuinely tried to make this post informative.
Article 32, as it's written
Without prejudice to paragraph 2 of this Article, Member States shall provide for a transitional period ending on 28 June 2030 during which service providers may continue to provide their services using products which were lawfully used by them to provide similar services before that date.
Service contracts agreed before 28 June 2025 may continue without alteration until they expire, but no longer than five years from that date.
Member States may provide that self-service terminals lawfully used by service providers for the provision of services before 28 June 2025 may continue to be used in the provision of similar services until the end of their economically useful life, but no longer than 20 years after their entry into use.
First off, we've got to briefly cover the term 'transitional measures'.
Simply put, its just a period of change and giving people time to adjust to new laws.
I guess it's like switching from your favorite old jeans to a new pair; some people need more time than others to feel comfortable!
The Transitional Period
The first part of Article 32 sets up a transitional period that ends on 28 June 2030.
It's a grace period for service providers to continue using products they were already using before the 28 June 2025 cut-off date.
This sucks, because this means the 2025 deadline isn't really a hard deadline. We all know a lot of organisations will just keep using all their old crap and burying their heads for another 5 years!
However, the good news is, it only applies to existing stuff, and organisations which do bury their head can't just keep using that old stuff forever! Any new stuff purchased will need to be accessible immediately once that 28 June 2025 deadline passes.
I guess my worry, is that organisations just invest in a whole bunch of new stuff right before the deadline, so they can claim it was 'existing', just to get out of doing anything for another 5 years!
But, this isn't a smart strategy, and I'm certain Karma will catch up eventually!
The next part talks about service contracts, these are basically agreements between two parties. For example, if you're renting a bunch of inaccessible devices off another company, they'll need to give you new stuff at some point, or you'll have to change suppliers.
Service contracts that were agreed before 28 June 2025 can keep going without any changes until they expire, but only for a maximum of five years from that date.
So, again, if your awful strategy is just to renew all of your contracts right before the deadline and bury your head, the transitional period is still a maximum of 5 years, or until the contract expires. Which ever is first!
You can't just put 30 year contracts in place now and get out of doing any accessibility work.
Last up, there's a bit about self-service terminals.
Article 32 basically says, if they were lawfully used before 28 June 2025, they can still be used until they're no longer 'economically useful', or up to a maximum of 20 years.
'Not economically useful?' – 20 years! – Urgh! I feel like this section was created and lobbied for by some very rich people!
This bit is probably the part that sucks the most, because most self-service terminals are already about 20 years out of date! Lets be honest, ticket machines for subway trains and super-market self-checkouts aren't exactly what we think of when we give examples of 'cutting edge technology'!
Why is all this important?
These transitional measures may suck, but they are a big 'heads up' to businesses and consumers. Change is coming.
Unfortunately, it's not coming as quickly as some of us had hoped, but Rome wasn't built in a day.
Luckily, for some organisations, it's a way to ease into new rules without causing too much panic or chaos. Or, I guess, without them losing too much money, which if we're honest, is proably what all the transitional period boils down to.
What we're seeing is an attempt at balance, between moving forward into a more inclusive world, and giving organisations a fair amount of time to adapt. But, for some of us, I guess it feels like the balance is just never tipped in our favour. I mean, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines have been around since 1999, so, I personally think we've all given organisations long enough to adjust! But that's just me.
Anyway, this is Article 32 of the European Accessibility Act in a nutshell. It's complex, sure, but hopefully it all makes a bit more sense now. It's just about giving organisations a chance to get on board with new rules, because nobody likes surprises, especially when it comes to the law!
Being less pessimistic, I believe the transition is necessary, as not all organisations are the same. They all have different budgets, different strategies and different work in flight.
But, come 2030, we'll all be here to nail them to the floor!