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European Accessibility Act: status in Belgium

In 2019, the European Union (EU) published the European Accessibility Act (EAA). This directive is meant to create harmonised, minimum accessibility requirements across the Union for specific products and services. Each member state was tasked with transposing the directive into law by June 28, 2022, and enforcing it from June 28, 2025, with a transitional period up to June 28, 2030. High time to take a look at the current status of the transposition of the directive into Belgian legislation. Learn what to expect from 2025 onward and how to proactively prepare your company to avoid potential fines.


To which products and services does the European Accessibility Act apply?

To recap our previous article on the European Accessibility Act, the EU is introducing accessibility requirements for a number of products and services. Every member state has to update its legislation, taking into account all requirements set out by the directive for the following:

Products

  • smartphones

  • computers and operating systems

  • terminals (e.g. ATMs, ticket systems)

  • TV equipment with digital television or internet services (e.g. smart TVs)

  • e-readers

Services

  • telephony services

  • audiovisual media services (e.g. streaming platforms)

  • transportation tickets (airplane, bus, train, and water transport)

  • consumer banking services

  • e-books

  • e-commerce (e.g. webshops, online newspapers with subscription option)

  • ‘112’ emergency communication

Transposition into national law

Belgium

Belgium is among countries still working on complete transposition. Multiple Federal Public Services (or FPS, French: SPF, Dutch: FOD) were tasked with partially transposing the European directive, allowing each to focus on products and services relevant to their authority. For example, the FPS Economy is responsible for drafting legislation based on the requirements the EAA sets out for consumer banking. FPS Interior does the same for emergency communications.

Some responsibilities were even further divided, tasking the Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital Region) and Communities (Flemish, French-speaking, and German-speaking Community) with transposition responsibilities (e.g. drafting laws concerning the accessibility requirements for audiovisual media services).

Finally, the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications (BIPT) is responsible–as a parastatal agency–for transposing into law all requirements for electronic communications services.

Given the division of responsibilities in Belgium, it's challenging to maintain an up-to-date overview of all proposed and accepted bills concerning the EAA. The first proposals came in early 2021, from the three Communities, each updating their laws with new accessibility requirements for audiovisual media services. The last update at time of writing came in late 2023: updated legislation for the financial sector by the FPS Economy, concerning consumer banking and e-commerce in particular.

Although not every aspect of the European Directive has already been addressed (e.g. the sections on emergency contact services through '112'), the updates we have seen all paint a similar picture. Nobody has strayed far from the EAA. This means companies in Belgium providing any of the products or services listed above can read the requirements outlined by Europe, and plan accordingly.

Important to note is that under the EU’s directive, the “e-commerce services” definition applies to every company providing services via a website or application with the goal of concluding a consumer agreement. If there’s an online monetary transaction, it probably qualifies as e-commerce: webshops, streaming subscription, news websites that offer subscription-based content, and so on.

Despite the missed 2022-deadline for complete transposition, the 2025-deadline for enforcement of the new requirements still stands. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check whether your company will fall under the new laws and regulations.

Wout Thielemans, Front-end accessibility expert

Other EU countries

Not all countries made the 2022 deadline to transpose the directive into national law, although most member states have published updated legislation by now. Some examples:

Got info (or questions) about your specific country? Contact us at [email protected].

Belgium, like most countries, doesn’t go beyond the minima set out in the European Accessibility Act. The Directive left room for each member state to go above and beyond its requirements, but we’re not seeing many countries take that path.

Exceptions, exemptions, and extensions

The EAA provides two paths to exceptions on (specific) accessibility requirements:

  • if requirements cause provable “disproportionate burdens” to the product/service;

  • if necessary updates cause provable “fundamental changes to the essential nature” to the product/service.

If a service or product provider feels either of these situations apply to them, they need to provide thorough documentation explaining how a certain requirement causes the disproportionate burden or fundamental change. This request is specific to each requirement from which they want exemption. The documentation has to be made available for the government to consult.

Micro-enterprises (businesses employing fewer than 10 people, and with an annual turnover or a total balance sheet which does not surpass 2 million Euros) providing services are exempt from all requirements.

A transition period of five years is available for service providers to keep using the products they were already lawfully using before the 2025 deadline up until June 2030.

Accessibility requirements

The European Accessibility Act designates the EU's prevailing accessibility standard (EN 301 549) as a harmonized standard. This implies that products and services adhering to EN 301 549 are presumed to be in compliance with the requirements of the Act.

More information on the harmonized European standard (currently only available in PDF).

What’s next?

Enforcement

From 2025 on, every relevant company under the new legislation will have to publish an accessibility statement. This will contain an overview of its compliancy with accessibility requirements.

Any non-conformity has to be reported to the government by the companies themselves. Users must also be able to file complaints to government instances, either by themselves, or via consumer organisations. In Belgium these reports will be handled by officials working in a government branch relevant to the type of product or service provider in question. The EAA requires member states to handle each and every report or complaint, and keep the filer of said report or complaint up to date about its status. The FPS Economy, for example, has set a deadline of thirty days for its officials to respond to complaints.

Once a government official has confirmed a report or complaint to be valid, they will set up a realistic deadline for the company in question to reach conformity. The official also has the power to give out fines, maxing out at 200.000 Euros.

Start building an inclusive business

At first glance, the EAA provides plenty of exceptions, exemptions, and extensions, but these can give a warped image of the future for digital products and services. Our society is increasingly digital, and there is work to be done if we don’t want to leave large groups of people behind. At Craftzing we believe in building inclusive products and services, for everyone, always. New legislation can help get the ball rolling, but we strive to go beyond that.

Assess your compliance with accessibility standards

If we want to keep changing the world with digital solutions, we want everybody along for the ride. We can only do this together with our partners, who will benefit from taking their responsibilities serious and not excluding anyone from their user bases. Wondering where to start for your company? With an accessibility report we can assess your current compliance with the relevant standards, and help you grow from there.

The digital future is an inclusive one, and we’re here to help make that happen.

 

By Wout Thielemans

I am an accessibility specialist with ten years of experience in front-end development, focused on making our digital society inclusive for everyone.