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Proposed Law Published on Accessibility of High-Tech and Other Products for Disabled Persons

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission presented its proposal for the so-called “European Accessibility Act”. The future law, drafted as an EU Directive, will set common accessibility requirements for key products and services that should help persons with disabilities across the EU to participate more fully in society.

The proposed Directive will cover the following products and services, several of which will be of relevance to Hong Kong sellers:

  • computers and operating systems,
  • ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines,
  • telephones and smartphones,
  • TV equipment related to digital television services,
  • telephony services and related equipment,
  • audio-visual media services, such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment,
  • services related to air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport,
  • banking services,
  • e-books,
  • e-commerce.

The proposed Directive aims to improve the functioning of the internal market, making it easier for companies to provide accessible products and services across borders. Common accessibility requirements will particularly apply in the framework of the EU’s procurement rules, which apply, for example, when Member States’ national bodies issue calls for tender of products, such as information and communications technology (ICT) products.

According to the Commission, the European Accessibility Act will make it easier for producers and service providers (e.g. those in Hong Kong) to export products and services that comply with the EU requirements, since they won't need to adjust to divergent national rules. In particular, this should help small companies to take full advantage of the EU’s internal market.

The proposed Directive will set out what needs to be accessible in terms of functional requirements. However, the Directive will not impose detailed technical solutions prescribing how to make it accessible. The proposal uses a set of common accessibility requirements at EU level for a number of products and services (those mentioned above).

Importantly for manufacturers including those in Hong Kong and mainland China, the Directive does not set obligations for all manufacturers and service providers, but only for those working on a selected list of products and services, e.g., in the framework of a call for tender, issued by a national Member State body.

Although the future Directive does not prescribe in detail how to render a product or service accessible, it does include the possibility of using voluntary harmonised standards to provide a presumption of conformity with the accessibility requirements. Moreover, in order to secure proper implementation and enforcement of accessibility, the proposed Directive makes use of “light” conformity assessment (self-declaration) and existing market surveillance mechanisms to assess compliance of products with accessibility requirements.

Application of harmonised standards will remain voluntary. However, when using harmonised standards, the references of which have been published in the EU’s Official Journal, there is a presumption of conformity that the accessibility requirements of the Directive covered by those standards or parts thereof have been complied with, allowing the free circulation of these products and services within the EU internal market.

The proposed Directive sets out the date of entry into force of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive as two years after its entry into force at the latest. The Directive then requires Member States to set the application of all measures, including the free circulation of products and services it covers, by six years after the entry into force of the Directive.

As the text is still only a proposal, it will have to be voted through (adopted) co-jointly by the European Parliament and EU Council. This process itself will take a while, possibly one to two years. For a copy of the proposed Directive and further details, please click on the following link: European Accessibility Act

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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