Everything you need to know about the European Accessibility Act
Disability is common. According to Eurostat, one in four European adults–or 87 million people–live with some form of disability. As a result, they're not always able to be part of digital society. The European Accessibility Act aims to change that with legislation for specific products and services. This decision will have a significant impact on many organizations. What does that mean for yours? Discover ten frequently asked questions and answers.
1. Why a European Accessibility Act?
To ensure digital inclusion in our society, the European Union is imposing accessibility standards for products and services. A single European standard for each member state to implement should harmonize the differing national legislations we have today. Companies building products and services will have a clear overview of which rules apply to them. These changes should lead to usable and accessible products for everyone, regardless of ability.
16% of the European population lives with a disability and finds it hard to use certain digital services. If your offering is not accessible to everyone, you are essentially disregarding 16% of potential users – a significant target audience and additional revenue.
2. How can the European Accessibility Act benefit my organization?
The European Accessibility Act offers two clear benefits. Firstly, it will be easier for international organizations to comply with regulations, as they will no longer vary from one member state to another. The EU predicts the introduction of a single European standard could lead to a cost reduction of 45%. The investments that organizations will have to make in the coming years to align their offerings with the new regulations are expected to be outweighed by the long-term savings.
Secondly, the Act helps organizations increase the number of users of their products and services. After all, 16% of the European population lives with a disability and finds it hard to use certain digital services. If your offering is not accessible to everyone, you are essentially disregarding 16% of potential users – a significant target audience and additional revenue.
3. Which products and services does the European Accessibility Act apply to?
Regarding products, the European Accessibility Act applies to smartphones, computers and operating systems, terminals (like ATMs, ticket systems, etc.), TV equipment with digital television or internet services (smart TVs), and e-readers.
In terms of services, it includes telephony services, audiovisual media services, websites, transportation tickets (airplane, bus, train, and water transport), banking services, e-books, and e-commerce.
Summary of Directive (EU) 2019/882 on the accessibility requirements for products and services.
4. Which products and services are excluded from the European Accessibility Act?
For now, the European Accessibility Act does not apply to education, healthcare, housing, and household appliance sectors. Micro-enterprises (fewer than 10 employees) are also temporarily exempt from complying with the regulations. The EU wants to prevent the new legislation from excessively hindering digitalization in these industries and organizations.
5. When will the European Accessibility Act be enforced?
The EU required member states to transpose the Act into national legislation by June 28, 2022, and to enforce it starting June 28, 2025. Belgium has not met the first deadline, so exact laws are still unknown, but since the standards outlined in the Act serve as a minimum, they can already be used to measure compliance. This also means our country has not yet defined any legal measures or sanctions for non-compliance with the law. Using fines can be meaningful in combating digital exclusion. The reasons behind this are explained in this opinion piece by our CEO, Roeland Tegenbos, for De Tijd.
6. What accessibility requirements does the EU impose?
The EU imposes the Harmonised European Standard EN 301 549 (PDF) in the regulations. This standard refers to the more well-known WCAG 2.1 level AA, an internationally recognized set of fifty criteria.
For existing products and services, your organization must comply with the new regulations starting from June 28, 2025. This means you need to first screen your products and services for accessibility errors and issues. Subsequently, you need to have a plan of action to address those issues.
7. My offering falls under the new European guidelines. What now?
The Accessibility Act impacts organizations at two levels. For existing products and services, your organization must comply with the new regulations starting from June 28, 2025. This means you need to first screen your products and services for accessibility errors and issues. Subsequently, you need to have a plan of action to address those issues.
If you intend to develop a new service or innovation, it is wise not to follow the traditional innovation and design process where accounting for accessibility comes in at the end of the development cycle. Instead, incorporate accessibility right from the concept phase. This will help you achieve a more accessible solution overall, and avoid potential problems, additional work, and costs later on.
8. What if my offering doesn't comply with the new legislation by 2025?
Once Belgium has transposed the European guidelines into national legislation, organizations whose offerings do not comply may face sanctions. Until the Belgian legislation is determined, however, it is unclear what those sanctions will be. Read the opinion piece written by our CEO, Roeland Tegenbos, on this topic in De Tijd, advocating the use of fines for non-compliance.
9. What investments should I consider for my organization?
The necessary investments can vary significantly depending on the organization, the complexity of the solution, and the extent to which your organization relies on external vendors. For example: for a payment terminal, you need to consider both software and hardware aspects. If you would like an independent cost estimate, Craftzing can help you out.
For new products and services, we recommend applying the “shift left” principle. This means integrating digital accessibility as early as possible in the design and development process and continuously testing and adjusting it.
10. How do I best prepare my organization?
If you want to adapt existing products and services to the new regulations, start with an audit and screening. Then, define how you will address each of the pain points. For new products and services, we recommend applying the “shift left” principle. This means integrating digital accessibility as early as possible in the design and development process, and continuously testing and adjusting it. This approach can make the adoption of accessibility less costly and time-consuming. It is more expensive to renovate a digital house to meet inclusive requirements than to build it inclusively from the start.
Do you have any thoughts on topics related to the European Accessibility Act or building an inclusive business that you'd like to share? Would you like to have a more comprehensive discussion on digital inclusion and accessibility tailored to your business needs? Send me a message at [email protected] and let's talk.
By Gijs Veyfeyken
I'm a certified accessibility specialist helping organizations improve their services for all people, including those with disabilities. Making it work. For everybody.