European Accessibility Act and ebook accessibility

In April 2019 the European Parliament passed the European Accessibility Act (from now on, the EAA). It regulates the accessibility of several new digital products and services: devices such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets, customer terminals, vending machines, web stores and ebooks together with their reading apparatus and programs.

The EAA must form part of the national legislation of each EU member country by June 2022. The act will apply to products and services entering the market on or after June 28th, 2025.

Why Accessibility Act?

The EAA implements the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention has been signed by the European Union as well as its member countries.

The important principles within the Act are for example channel multiplicity, i.e. the information is available through more than one sense, or the recognition of the users of assistive technology.

Who must comply with the EAA?

In the formulation of the EAA the inner market point of view is very pronounced. At the moment the differences in national legislations and accessibility standards among the member countries may hinder the access to the EU market, especially for smaller or medium sized companies.

On the other hand, micro companies (under 10 employees or under €2 million yearly turnover) are excluded from having to conform to the EAA.

What does e-book accessibility mean?

When it comes to electronic books, the EAA is very thorough. It takes into account the whole value chain from book production to consumption.

From June 2025 onwards the reader must be able to find and read an e-book despite possible disabilities or use of assistive technology. He or she has to be able to locate the book from an internet bookstore or e-library, to buy or lend the book and, finally, to read it with an e-reader, computer program or mobile app. E-readers must include a built-in text-to-speech synthesis.

The EAA also demands that products containing both text and audio sync these seamlessly. The navigation within the product must be clear and intuitive, and the navigation must work also with assistive technology.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) should not block the assistive technology from accessing the information. Additionally, the EAA requires that e-books include accessibility metadata.

How about different formats?

The EAA does not mention any specific ebook file format. The deadline looms in the future and the formats and devices will change and update during the five years between now and the enactment of the directive.

At the moment, epub3 is the most likely candidate to meet the demands of the EAA. However, even epub3 is not fool-proof: producing accessible epubs with desktop publishing tools requires a certain set of skills and many apps and e-readers do not yet fully support its accessibility features.

New products bring forth new readers

The production of accessible ebooks allows for attracting new audiences despite possible hindrances in the process. Within the European markets, millions of potential customers will benefit from accessible digital products.

Already now the audiobook subscription services and similar mobile app based services have attracted plenty of customers who were not in the habit of purchasing traditional print volumes.