EAA underscores the importance of designing user-centric, accessible digital products, benefiting a wider audience, improving the user experience, and aligning with legal obligations. Designers should integrate accessibility from the start, understand WCAG guidelines, and regularly test their designs to ensure compliance with EAA and promote inclusivity.
In this ever-evolving digital ecosystem, accessibility is more important than ever. Standards, like the European Accessibility Act (EAA), provide practical guidelines for accessibility in digital products.
The European Accessibility Act sets the standard for creating websites or apps that are usable and accessible for everyone, irrespective of ability. For UI UX designers, it is crucial to understand and comply with these regulations to ensure that the designs are inclusive and user-friendly. In this article, we explore EAA, its importance, requirements, and tips to integrate accessibility guidelines in UX strategies.
What is the European Accessibility Act (EAA)?
The European Accessibility Act is a landmark legislation enacted by the European Union (EU) in December 2020. Derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, EAA is a progressive Act to answer the problems of marginalization. It is a set of guidelines that sets the requirements for the accessibility of products and services in the EU, including websites, mobile applications, and other digital products. The goal of the act is to ensure that users with disabilities can fully tap digital resources and have access to the same products and services as everyone else.
The act mandates that people with disabilities are able to access products and services covered by this law proportionately to the effort and cost involved. It is applicable to all the EU member states and covers products and services such as telecommunication and multimedia equipment, banking and payment services, e-books and e-papers, e-commerce, and more. The act can be considered a crucial step in promoting digital accessibility and inclusiveness in the EU.
Why compliance with the European Accessibility Act is important in UX UI design?
Complying with the European Accessibility Act is a critical aspect of designing user-centric and responsive products. Compliance with the act involves incorporating accessibility features such as high-contrast modes, large text sizes, keyword navigation, and alternative text description for images to make UI UX design usable for people with disabilities such as visual, auditory, and motor impairments.
Here are some reasons why compliance with EAA is important in UI/UX designs.
- Inclusiveness: Creating UI/UX designs by focusing on accessibility helps to reach a wider audience. This ensures that the design provides equal access to information for all users.
- User-experience: When a design is accessible it means the overall user experience is improved as it is easier for all users to navigate and interact with digital products.
- Legal obligation: Failing to comply with the regulations of the act can result in legal and financial consequences, so it is important for UX/UI designers to ensure that the product is compliant.
- Business benefits: Businesses prioritizing accessibility benefit from improved customer satisfaction, better search engine optimization, and a reputation for being socially responsible.
European Accessibility Act requirements
There are different user needs of people with disabilities, such as visual, auditory, and motor impairments. The EAA ensures that digital products and services provide clear and simple information, support keyboard navigation, and use an alternative text description for images.
Furthermore, the UI/UX design should support high-contrast modes and large text sizes, as well as provide audio and video captions. This allows users to pause or hide moving content and ensure that the design is compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers and magnifiers.
The UI/UX designers have to design a product with accessibility in mind from the start of the product development. It can be done by performing accessibility evaluations and tests as well as providing user support by training people with disabilities. An understanding of EAA is essential to ensure that the end product is usable for all users and meets the legal and ethical obligations of the design practice.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ( WCAG )
EAA references WCAG 2.1 to provide technical and functional accessibility requirements of the web content. The guidelines are categorized into four principles:
- Perceivable: The information and the user interface components of the website must be presented in a way that users can easily perceive them. It means the information has to be augmented with alternative text for images and audio descriptions for videos.
- Operable: A high level of operability has to be ensured by making the UI components easily navigable for all users through a keyboard or other accessibility technologies such as screen readers.
- Understandable: The information and the operation of the user interface should be provided in simple language to avoid confusing instructions.
- Robust: Since the website has to be interpreted by a wider range of access technologies such as assistive technologies, the content has to be robust enough to be compatible with all devices.
By adhering to WCAG 2.1, UI/UX designers and developers can build websites and mobile applications that are accessible to people with disabilities and align with the legal requirements of accessibility in the EU.
How to follow and implement EAA guidelines in UI/UX design strategy?
The goal of UI/UX design is to create user-centric products. Ideally, all designs should have universal accessibility, supporting users with disabilities. Following EAA guidelines in UI UX design process is essential, and here are some steps to build responsive and inclusive products:
- Conduct user research and accessibility audit
While designing a product, comprehensive user research has to be performed to understand the target users. Identify the needs of all users, including those with disabilities, and use the data to make informed design decisions. Also, to assess the accessibility of the existing product, evaluate the design to identify the potential barriers that can hinder the usability for users with disabilities.
- Integrate accessibility early on in the design
Rather than as an afterthought, EAA consideration has to begin from the start of the product design. As mentioned earlier, it must begin with the user research phase to understand the specific needs of the users. Early on in the design, it's good to ensure that the EAA guidelines are the fundamental part of the design strategy.
- Familiarize yourself with WCAG 2.1 guidelines
As a UI /UX designer, it is important to get familiar with WCAG 2.1 guidelines to help adhere to accessibility standards as per the EAA Act. Use accessibility patterns based on the guidelines that are proven to be effective to build the best digital products.
- Test the design for accessibility
Conduct regular accessibility testing to identify if there are any gaps in the usability requirements of the design. If any such issues arise, ensure that necessary actions are taken and changes made to provide a pleasurable user experience for all users.
- Prioritize accessibility
Prioritizing accessibility at the organizational level ensures more accountability and empathy from the designers. Businesses that uphold accessibility and inclusivity are seen to be more socially responsible and have a unique position in the market.
Timeline for implementing EAA guidelines
The EU member states are mandated to implement the Directive as a National Law from the date of publication on June 28, 2019, till June 28, 2022. So, they have three years to ensure compliance. Also, the member states will have three more years to apply the provision of the Act. The general timeline for the implementation of the Act is
- June 2022: The Act became effective and binding on all EU member states.
- June 2023: The first set of accessibility guidelines for websites, mobile applications, and digital services will come into effect.
- June 2025: The second set of accessibility requirements covering additional products and services will come into effect.
- Ongoing: There will be regular assessments and reviews to fix the gaps in the EAA.
Cost of non-compliance with the European Accessibility Act
Non-compliance with EAA will have serious consequences for businesses/organizations. More than adhering to the guidelines, consider implementing EAA as a moral responsibility to ensure accessibility for all. Here are some of the implications of non-compliance with EAA:
- Financial penalties: There will be significant financial penalties for organizations that don’t comply with the EAA guidelines. The penalties vary from country to country but non-compliance is a costly mistake.
- Damage to reputation: Non-compliance erodes the reputation of the organizations, especially in the eyes of people with disabilities and their allies. This substantially reduces the number of customers and brand loyalty.
- Legal action: If there is non-compliance with EAA, users can file lawsuits against the organization for violation of the rule. Therefore, organizations become vulnerable to legal action.
- Loss of opportunities: Organizations that are non-compliant with EAA risk losing business opportunities because the Act mandates the products and services be available for everyone.
This shows that concrete steps have to be taken to design products so that it is enjoyable and usable for all.
EAA: The road to inclusive UI/UX design
Designing a website that is truly inclusive requires adherence to the guidelines set by the European Accessibility Act, which establishes standards for UI UX designs. By following these guidelines and putting them into practice, the resulting designs not only look visually appealing but are also accessible to all users. It is a journey toward a more inclusive future; so as a UI UX designer, it is important to ensure that technology caters to all and that barriers are broken down.
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