There are 135 million people in the EU who have a disability—and that number will only grow as the population ages. To address the rights of those people as outlined by the UN Convention of Rights on the Persons of Disabilities, the EU has passed both the EU Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act (EAA). 

Most of the deadlines for the EU Web Accessibility Directive have already passed, but if you still have questions about what it means for you, check out our extensive FAQ post on the directive.   

In this post, we’ll cover what the newer European Accessibility Act is and what it might mean for your business. 

What is the European Accessibility Act?

The EAA (also known as Directive 2019/882) is meant to “improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, by removing barriers created by divergent rules in Member States,” according the European Commission.

Previously, each member state in the EU had different accessibility standards for products and services, which resulted in 1) poor selection and expensive products for consumers, and 2) small markets with little incentive for companies.

Under the EAA, EU member states will now have a set of common accessibility rules to follow, so it’s easier for private companies to sell compliant products and services in all areas of the EU, which will increase selection for consumers.

The goal of the act is to harmonize and standardize accessibility rules, so that products and services use a “design for all” approach. According to the UN Convention of Rights on the Persons of Disabilities, that approach “means the design of products, environments, programs and services should be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” 

The act also says that apps and websites should be made accessible with the four principles of accessibility in mind (POUR): perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Those principles are what WCAG is built on, which is the universal standard for web accessibility.

A graphic that says: the four principles of accessibility in mind (POUR): perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust

Who does the EAA apply to?

Unlike its companion directive, the EAA applies to private companies selling products or services that 1) are seen as highly important for disabled people, and 2) have widely ranging accessibility requirements across the member states.

Basically, the EAA is meant to standardize the most important products and services for disabled people. The act covers hardware, software, web, and services:

  • Computers and operating systems
  • ATMs, ticketing, and check-in machines
  • Smartphones and tablets
  • TV equipment related to digital television services
  • Telephony services and related equipment
  • Access to audio-visual media services such as television broadcast and related consumer equipment
  • Services related to air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport (websites, apps, ticketing services, etc.)
  • Banking services
  • eBooks and eReaders
  • Emergency numbers
  • Ecommerce websites and apps 

The EAA applies to products and services that are sold or used within the EU—regardless of where those businesses are based.

What are the benefits of the act?

For companies and member states

Previously, companies would create products or services that were compliant with the accessibility requirements for one or a few countries. That made the selection of products/services less competitive and lowered the incentive for companies to make accessible products. 

The EU Commission estimates that differing accessibility requirements cost companies and member states €20 billion in 2020. The proposed EU action is estimated to reduce that by 45% to 50%.

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With a standard set of accessibility rules, companies can offer products/services that are compliant within the whole of Europe, which greatly increases their market reach and incentive to create accessible offerings.

For consumers

For all consumers, there will be more choices and products/services will become better and more competitively priced.

The act will also allow more independent living for people with disabilities, as there will be more accessible products and services to rely on. 

Other benefits of the act include:

  • More employment opportunities for disabled people to work with creating accessible products/services
  • Harmonized accessibility requirements will allow companies to better share research, technology, and ideas that everyone can benefit from
  • A strong requirement in the EU for a standardized level of accessibility will have a “Brussels effect,” which will likely lead to other countries adopting the same standards so they can easily sell products/services in the EU
  • Disabled people can enjoy more freedom of movement and employment between member states as they can count on standardized levels of accessibility
  • The elderly, people with temporary disabilities, people traveling with luggage, etc. will all benefit from more accessible services and devices
  • A single market for accessible products and services will mean lower prices, more choices, and more innovation 

What's the timeline for the EAA?

The EAA was adopted by the EU in June 2019. By June 2022, EU member states need to translate and adopt the directive into their national laws. By July 2025 the law must be enforced.

A graphic for the timeline of the EAA

Who is exempt from the European Accessibility Act?

There is an exception in the act for “undue burden,” meaning a company doesn’t have to comply if it would change the nature of the product/service or if the company would be financially overburdened.

There’s also an exception for what the act calls “micro-enterprises,” which are companies with less than 10 employees and an annual turnover of less the two million euros. 

There are a few specific instances that are exempt from compliance:

  • Pre-recorded time-based media published before June 2025
  • Office file formats published before June 2025
  • Online maps, if essential information is otherwise provided in an accessible way
  • Third party content that is not funded, developed, or under the control of the organization that has to be compliant
  • Archive content that won’t be updated after June 2025

How is the European Accessibility Act enforced?

Each member state is in charge of enforcing the act, which means they can appoint the body in charge of enforcement and decide penalties.

Penalties

Member states are in charge of enforcing their own penalties for noncompliance, which should be “effective, proportionate, and dissuasive.”

Reporting noncompliance

Each member state must make it possible for consumers to report noncompliance to either the courts or the body in charge of enforcing the law in that country.

Both public and private organizations also must have the option of going to court or filing a complaint with the body in charge. 

What’s the difference between the EU Web Accessibility Directive and the European Accessibility Act?

The EAA applies to private businesses (or public organizations offering the type of products/services listed), while the EU Directive applies to public organizations and the third-party vendors they use. Beyond that, the EAA applies to hardware, software, and web, while the EU Directive applies to web and apps.

The EU Directive specifically references WCAG 2.1 Level AA, while the EAA does not reference any specific standard of compliance. The deadlines for each regulation are also different.   

The way the regulations are implemented is the same: member states are responsible for enforcing, imposing fines, and reporting status to the European Commission.

Start achieving accessibility excellence

The EAA is a huge step forward for EU members states and people with disabilities within the EU. The new legislation will create better choices at better prices for people with disabilities, but it will also make products, services, and websites more usable for all people.

If you’re unsure how to start your accessibility journey, head over to our accessibility hub for free tools, resources, tips, and more.