An Interview with Will Awad, Head of Digital Accessibility at Newgen KnowledgeWorks.
There is a lot of buzz around the European Accessibility Act (EAA) that is coming into force in 2025. This landmark legislation by the European Union (EU) government is a key step to creating a union of equality wherein everyone can fully participate in society. It establishes that accessibility must be met by many different types of products and services to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities to access goods and services, including eBooks, dedicated reading software, and e-reading devices. Businesses around the world have two years to ensure compliance and start the remediation process. From June 28, 2025, businesses will only be able to supply products and services in the European market that comply with the Directive’s accessibility requirements. The EAA is a law and is therefore enforceable. It is expected to impact the lives of 135 million people with disabilities in the EU.
In the case of e-commerce, EAA requires businesses in the EU to ensure that their products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. The Act sets out specific accessibility requirements that products and services must meet, including the provision of alternative formats. In due course, companies that prioritize accessibility may gain a competitive edge over those that do not. Businesses can tap into this substantial customer base, enhance brand image, and boost customer loyalty. In addition, accessible web services also tend to have better search engine rankings, load faster on mobile devices, and have longer and more robust life cycles.
Will Awad, Head of Digital Accessibility at Newgen, advises on digital accessibility compliance per W3C/WCAG guidelines and oversees access audits and remediation of digital documents (i.e., EPUBs and PDFs), ensuring they meet the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the European Accessibility Act (EAA). He has been working with businesses across the globe and guiding them to meet the EAA guidelines. In this brief interview, Will Awad would like to reassure companies that driving digital accessibility is not as complex, expensive, or challenging as it is made out to be. He answers a few frequently asked questions about digital accessibility in this interview…
How will EAA specifically affect the publishing business?
The EAA will impact all businesses that are providing services or products to European countries, especially publishers. If a publisher wants to sell their product in the EU market, that product must be fully accessible to everyone. Therefore, when converting a book to EPUB format, the electronic eBook must be fully accessible; if not, the publisher will face a penalty by the EU countries.
What are the key concerns facing businesses and what according to you is holding them back from embarking on this journey?
The main concern is with backlist titles that were published more than a decade ago. These titles must be brought to a fully accessible format. Businesses are concerned about the costs of making these titles compliant with WCAG and have taken to employing subject matter experts for alternative text writing and creating descriptions for images.
While businesses are in various stages of their accessibility journey, in your experience, what are the key challenges they are facing in their digital accessibility journey?
There are many challenges for accessibility in any given business, and these could be hiring the right talent for the business to help address accessibility testing and compliance, engaging with the right development company to build an accessible website, and hiring the right expert to help manage the businesses through the journey of accessibility.
Digital accessibility is nuanced and complex; what are the steps that businesses should take to start their journey if they haven’t started it yet?
Digital accessibility is a journey and not a one-time thing. Taking the first step and acknowledging that the business is working on making its digital assets accessible is the starting point. Adding an accessibility statement to the business site, engaging with accessibility experts, and ensuring that the business is accessible is a key to success in this journey…