14 June 2019
New EU Law Designates Accessibility Requirements for Certain Products Used by Consumers
Certain types of products that are used by consumers, being made in or imported into the European Union, will be subject to a new set of requirements regarding their accessibility for use by persons with disabilities. A new EU law, published on 7 June 2019, sets forth these requirements and the obligations they impose on manufacturers and importers of goods for sale on the EU market. Member States must begin applying the law and enforcing it through their national authorities on 28 June 2025. In the meantime, Hong Kong companies marketing the products covered by the new EU law can begin developing strategies to ensure that they will meet their obligations and that their products will comply with the necessary accessibility requirements.
A new EU law, Directive 2019/882 on the accessibility requirements for products and services, published in the Official Journal on 7 June 2019, aims to increase the accessibility of certain products for disabled persons in EU Member States. The Directive responds to high demand for accessible products and services, as well as expectations that the number of persons with disabilities will increase significantly in the future. By harmonising accessibility requirements across Member States, the new law intends to help create a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments that, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which the European Union is a party, calls on its parties to promote the development and availability of technologies and products suitable for persons with disabilities. The Directive will help achieve that goal.
Hong Kong sellers may want to note that the following products will be subject to the Directive when placed on the markets of the Member States: consumer general purpose computer hardware systems and operating systems; several types of self-service terminals, such as payment terminals or automated teller machines; consumer terminal equipment with interactive computing capability, for both electronic communications and audio-visual media services; and e-readers.
Manufacturers whose products are placed on the EU internal market will be required to design and manufacture their products to comply with the Directive’s accessibility requirements; prepare technical documentation demonstrating the product’s conformity to the relevant accessibility requirements; and complete a conformity assessment procedure.
The conformity assessment procedure will show that the product has complied with the applicable accessibility requirements, after which the manufacturer will draft an EU “declaration of conformity” and affix the CE marking visibly, legibly, and indelibly to the product. The CE marking is an indication by the manufacturer that the product conforms to all applicable requirements set out in the Directive and other relevant EU legislation. Manufacturers must retain the technical documentation and EU declaration of conformity for five years after the product is placed on the market.
Manufacturers also have to ensure that their products bear a type, batch or serial number or other element allowing their identification, or, where the size or nature of the product does not allow it, that the required information is provided on the packaging or in a document accompanying the product. In addition, manufacturers must indicate their name or trademark and the address at which they can be contacted on the product or, where that is not possible, on its packaging or in a document accompanying the product. The address must indicate a single point at which the manufacturer can be contacted. The contact details must be in a language easily understood by end-users and market surveillance authorities.
Manufacturers—including those based outside the EU—may appoint an authorised representative to retain the EU declaration of conformity and the technical documentation so that it can be provided to the appropriate authorities, if necessary, within the requisite five-year period. Authorised representatives may also act on behalf of the manufacturer by responding to reasonable requests from national authorities to demonstrate a product’s conformity or by cooperating with said authorities to address non-compliance. However, the authorised representative may not fulfil the manufacturer’s obligation of actually preparing the technical documentation.
Additionally, manufacturers must have procedures in place to ensure that articles remain in conformity with the Directive even as their designs or characteristics are updated. Manufacturers must also include instructions and safety information alongside their products in a language that can be easily understood by consumers and end-users.
Importers must only place compliant products on the market and are responsible for ensuring that the manufacturer has completed the conformity procedures described above. The Directive also obliges importers to indicate their name or trademark and an address at which they can be contacted on the product, or, where that is not possible, on its packaging or in a document accompanying the product, and always in a language easily understood by consumers. Like manufacturers, importers must also ensure that the product includes instructions and safety information.
As for the accessibility requirements themselves, the products within the Directive’s scope must be designed to maximize their foreseeable use by persons with disabilities and, when possible, be accompanied by information about how the product works and which accessibility features it contains. Hong Kong companies selling to EU customers may need to review their operations to ensure compliance with these new requirements.
The Directive provides detailed information regarding the precise accessibility requirements for specific products. Generally, instructions on the use of a product must be made available in more than one sensory channel; be presented in an understandable manner that can be perceived by users; and be compliant with certain visual requirements, such as font size and shape, contrast, and spacing.
The user interface of a product must ensure that persons with disabilities can access, perceive, operate, and control the product. The Directive includes detailed accessibility requirements for products using speech, visual elements, colour, audible signals, and manual operation and control in Annex I, as well as illustrative, non-binding examples of how to meet those requirements in Annex II.
Member States are required to incorporate the Directive into their national laws by 28 June 2022 and to begin applying those measures from 28 June 2025. Member States will also be responsible for assigning penalties in the event of a violation of the national laws implementing the Directive’s provisions. Hong Kong companies selling their products in the EU should thus take note of their obligations as these will become mandatory under the national laws of each Member State.