European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee adopted its position on the Digital Services Act (DSA), which includes requirements for online platforms to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
14 December 2021, Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) of the European Parliament (thereafter ‘the Committee’) adopted its position on the European Commission’s Digital Services Act (DSA) proposal.
What is the DSA?
The Digital Services Act or the DSA aims to create a safer digital space in which users’ rights are protected, including through rules to tackle illegal products, services or content online, enhance the accountability and transparency of algorithms, and deal with content moderation.
The law includes a wide scope of digital services such as services offering network infrastructure like Internet access providers, domain name registrars, cloud and webhosting services, online platforms bringing together sellers and consumers such as online marketplaces, app stores, collaborative economy platforms and social media platforms. There are specific rules for very large online platforms to safeguard against potential risks related to dissemination of illegal content and societal harms.
EDF Position on the DSA
When the DSA proposal was published by the European Commission in the beginning of 2021, we expressed our disappointment with the disregard to accessibility of digital services and platforms for persons with disabilities in the legal draft.
Since then, EDF has highlighted to EU legislators that, given growing importance of digital services and platforms in our lives, ensuring their accessibility is essential for millions of persons with disabilities.
Ensuring accessibility of all digital services and platforms has in fact been the main demand in our position on the DSA to EU legislators. We have raised that it is important that accessibility of all digital services, beyond online platforms used by consumers, is ensured, so that persons with disabilities can also have equal access to employment opportunities in the digital sector or at organisations and businesses that use digital services and platforms, for example cloud or webhosting services.
We have also called for mainstreaming accessibility throughout the legal text, so that information, feedback and complaints mechanisms, dispute settling systems, public reports of services and national authorities, stakeholder-engagement platforms at national and EU-level are accessible as well. By this the DSA will ensure that persons with disabilities are empowered to protect their rights as consumers of digital services and platforms.
We have also highlighted that organisations of persons with disabilities should be involved in structures aimed at facilitating the implementation of the DSA, for example related to the European Board for Digital Services, when drawing up codes of conduct for proper application of the DSA, and crisis protocols developed by large platforms.
Further, we have recommended consistency of the DSA with relevant international and Union legal frameworks such as the CRPD, Accessibility Act, and Web Accessibility Directive, and consistency with existing European accessibility standards when developing and implementing voluntary industry standards for the DSA.
Finally, we have advised that ‘accessibility for persons with disabilities’ is clearly spelled out in the DSA as in many instances accessibility is used as a synonym of availability or ease of use. We noted that spelling out ‘accessibility for persons with disabilities’ or referring to the Accessibility Act was necessary to ensure legal certainty during implementation of the DSA.
Parliament’s position on the DSA
We welcome that the European Parliament has considerably strengthened the European Commission’s proposal, ensuring accessibility of online platforms such as online marketplaces, app stores, or collaborative economy platforms and social media platforms used by millions of persons on daily basis. This will of course ensure that millions of consumers with disabilities have equal access to essential services, information, and communication through these services. The main article addressing this in the Committee position (Article 19a – Accessibility requirements for online platforms) is quite elaborate and ensures consistency with the European Accessibility Act.
Under the General Provisions (Chapter I) the DSA now includes setting out harmonised rules for a safe, accessible, predictable and trusted online environment, where fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter are effectively protected.
Specific accessibility requirements noted in Articles 17 (Internal complaint-handling system), 18 (Out-of-court dispute settlement) and 22 (Traceability of traders) will further contribute to empowering persons with disabilities as consumers of digital services and platforms.
Article 34 on Standards notes that the European Commission shall support and promote the development and implementation of voluntary standards to ensure that digital services and platforms are accessible for persons with disabilities in accordance with the accessibility requirements of the European Accessibility Act.
Article 37 on Crisis protocols states that the European Commission shall aim to ensure that the crisis protocols set out clearly measures to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities during implementation of crisis protocols, including by providing accessible description about these protocols. The Commission will encourage and support very large online platforms such as social media to develop such protocols, so that there are procedures in place for quick and effective communication by these platforms to wider public during crisis situations.
Supporting Recitals 4a and 46a make important references to the European Accessibility Act and the Web Accessibility Directive, highlight the need for ‘strict application of universal design to all new technologies and services’ (Rec. 4a) and for ensuring that ‘no one is left behind as result of digital innovation’ (Rec. 46a).
Shortcomings of the Parliament’s position
The main shortcoming of the Parliament’s position is that it has limited accessibility requirements to online platforms used by consumers. By this the Parliament has missed the opportunity to ensure accessibility of webhosting, domain name registries and other digital services and infrastructure that are vital for organisations and businesses in our rapidly digitalising economies. Ensuring accessibility of the wider digital infrastructure within the DSA would enable employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in companies that make use of digital services beyond online platforms.
Another shortcoming is that the term accessibility is used with different meanings (e.g. availability, easy to use) and it is not always clear if accessibility for persons with disabilities is considered. For example, provisions related to recommender systems (Article 29), Data access and scrutiny (Article 31), Transparency reporting obligations for very large online platforms (Article 33) mention accessibility, however due to lack of reference to the European Accessibility Act or spelling out that accessibility for persons with disabilities is intended, these requirement risk creating legal uncertainty and misinterpretation by service providers and regulators during application of the DSA.
While the compromise text voted by the Committee doesn’t go as far as requiring accessibility of all digital services and platforms for persons with disabilities, it sets clear and comprehensive requirements for online platforms used by millions of consumers, including with disabilities, to access digital services, receive and share information and content. Therefore, Parliament’s position supports EU’s aim of ensuring digital accessibility for persons with disabilities, as required by the UN CRPD.
While the final text of the law is still to be negotiated by the Parliament, the Council, and the Commission, recent Renew Europe – EDF online discussion on the DSA showed promising acknowledgement on the importance of ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities through the DSA among EU policymakers, legal experts, and representatives of industry and user organisations.
It is also reassuring that the recent Parliament Committee report on a parallel law – the Digital Markets Act (DMA) – which puts additional obligations on the largest players in the digital market, also includes accessibility requirements for major digital players.
The Digital Services Act (DSA) will be voted in the plenary of the European Parliament in January 2022 (tbc)and become its official position for the negotiations with the Council of the EU and the European Commission.
In the meantime, the debate on the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in plenary was held on Tuesday, 14 December at 9.00, and the final vote results are due to be announced on Wednesday, 15 December at 19.00 (plenary agenda).
- Access denied? EU must ensure accessible digital services for persons with disabilities!
- EDF Position Paper on the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act(Word)
- EDF Position Paper on the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act(PDF)
- IMCO compromise amendments on the DSA
- IMCO Voting results on DSA – 14 December 2021
- European Parliament press release – DSA
- Ensuring rights of persons with disabilities as consumers of digital services and platforms through the Digital Services Act (DSA) – event summary
- MEPs require major digital companies to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities – IMCO vote on the DMA
- “EU Digital Principles for the inclusion of persons with disabilities“
Mher Hakobyan, Accessibility Officer (email@example.com).