The European Accessibility Act

Discover how this transformative regulation fosters a truly inclusive digital environment, empowering individuals with disabilities and redefining accessibility standards for the future.

Key takeaways


The importance of digital accessibility

Ensuring access to digital products and services is a fundamental human right and a legal obligation. In today's digital society, it is of utmost importance that people with disabilities (who comprise around 16% of the global population) are not excluded from essential services, such as accessing public information, shopping, health consultations, banking, and online communications.

87 million of europeans have some form of disability, which equals to 1 in 4 european adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic vividly demonstrated the importance of digital inclusivity. It highlighted that these vital services predominantly occur online, so it is imperative that they are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. Promoting digital inclusivity enables all individuals to participate in society fully and live independently, ensuring a more accepting and compassionate world for everyone.

The purpose and impact of laws

Like in many developed nations, the EU recognized the increasing importance of inclusive digital experiences and responded by enacting digital accessibility laws. These laws have a primary objective: to guarantee equal access and usability for individuals with disabilities, removing any obstacles that hinder their full engagement with digital content, products, and services.

Laws around the world. Australia: Disability Discrimination Act, UK: The Equality Act of 2010, Canada: Accessible Canada Act, US: Americans with Disabilities Act, EU: European Accessibility Act, Japan: Disability Discrimination Act

Implementing these laws is vital because, without them, there would be no consistent and enforceable standards to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals with disabilities in the digital realm. By establishing legal frameworks, the EU ensures that digital platforms and services are accessible to all, fostering an inclusive and equitable environment.

An overview of digital accessibility laws in the EU

The Web Accessibility Directive (WAD)

The Web Accessibility Directive (WAD) has been in force since 22 December 2016 and focuses on enhancing accessibility for users, especially persons with disabilities, when interacting with websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies. It has effectively harmonized web accessibility laws and regulations across all EU member states. However, its scope is limited to public sector entities, including public administration, education, and healthcare.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA)

Derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the EAA complements the WAD and has a broader scope. It aims to enhance accessibility for people with disabilities and the elderly, covering various technologies beyond the web. This includes ATMs, smartphones, and e-books, and it applies not only to the public sector but also to the private sector. Industries like e-commerce, banking, and transportation services must comply with the EAA's accessibility standards.

Every company that conducts business in the European market is impacted by the European Accessibility Act (EAA) and must prepare to comply with its accessibility requirements by 2025, when the law becomes enforceable.

EAA: applies to both public and private sectors. WAD: Applies only to the private sector. WCAG: The de-facto global standard for accessibility. EN 301 549: The technical EU standard based on WCAG.

Understanding digital accessibility

A definition of accessibility

Accessibility is the practice of ensuring that websites, applications, and services are usable by as many people as possible. While its primary focus is to enable people with disabilities to access digital content, the advantages of accessibility extend to a wider range of user groups. This is because incorporating accessibility features provides additional usability benefits and positively impacts everyone in certain situations and as they age. Making digital platforms accessible benefits a diverse audience and creates a more inclusive and user-friendly experience for all.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the de facto standard for accessibility worldwide. Developed and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), these guidelines provide comprehensive recommendations for enhancing web content accessibility for people with disabilities. It is the foundation for nearly all national standards, including the EAA.

The four principles of digital accessibility

WCAG revolves around four fundamental principles, each addressing specific aspects of accessibility. These principles lay the groundwork for creating digital content that is inclusive and accessible to a diverse audience.

The three levels of conformance

WCAG categorizes its success criteria into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA, representing varying degrees of accessibility standards. Level A sets the minimum requirements, Level AA signifies a higher standard and is mandated in all laws and regulations, while Level AAA represents the highest level of conformance. This classification offers a clear framework for developers and designers to improve the accessibility of digital content and services progressively.

Benefits of accessible products and services

The European Accessibility Act will significantly improve the lives of over 100 million people – almost one in five Europeans – with disabilities, including many older individuals and those experiencing temporary impairments.

Benefits for all EU citizens

Indeed, while the primary goal of the European Accessibility Act is to reduce barriers and improve accessibility for people with disabilities, its positive impact benefits all EU citizens. The European Commission provides illustrative examples that demonstrate the Act's broader advantages: "People trying to hear traveling information in noisy environments like train stations, or trying to get money from ATMs on a sunny day, or employees working with enlarged documents to avoid eye strain will also greatly benefit from further accessibility."

The legislation's benefits go beyond individuals with permanent disabilities, as it also addresses the needs of people with temporary impairments. For instance, someone with a broken arm or carrying a baby who needs to operate a mobile app with one hand will find improved accessibility measures incredibly helpful.

The persona spectrum showing examples for how a solution scales to broader audiences. For example someone with a permanent hearing loss, someone with a temporary hearing loss due to an ear infection, and someone who "situationally" can't hear, like a bartender all have the same functional needs.

Benefits for customers and companies

Both companies and customers stand to benefit significantly from the European Accessibility Act's common accessibility requirements. Compliance with these requirements will facilitate cross-border trading within the EU for companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It assures them they can sell their products and services throughout the European Union, streamlining business operations and expanding their market reach.

On the customer side, the Act's focus on driving innovation will result in a more diverse and socially inclusive range of products and services. As companies innovate to meet accessibility standards, customers will gain access to a broader selection of offerings that cater to diverse needs and preferences. This enhanced competition among businesses will likely lead to more competitive prices, making products and services more affordable and accessible to a wider audience.

Overall, the Act's mutual benefits for companies and customers will foster a more inclusive and dynamic marketplace, promoting economic growth and social inclusion throughout the European Union.

Details of the European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act encompasses many products and services to enhance accessibility and inclusivity within the EU.

Products covered

Services covered

Essential online services covered by the EAA: E-commerce, Banking, and Transportation.

Companies affected

Like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the EAA will have a global impact. Companies worldwide that create software, digital services, or hardware sold or used in the EU must comply with the EAA, regardless of their location.


Certain organizations, known as 'micro-enterprises,' are exempt from the (EAA) due to the potential 'undue burden' caused by its requirements. Micro-enterprises are defined as companies with fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover of less than two million Euros. Compliance with the EAA could either require them to alter the core nature of their products or services or lead to financial strain.

Additionally, the EAA does not apply to specific types of content on websites and apps, including:

The standard

The EAA strongly emphasizes meeting the functional needs of people with disabilities and does not provide specific technical accessibility standards. However, other EU accessibility standards, such as EN 301 549, define requirements and incorporate WCAG 2.1.

As WCAG 2.1 is a widely recognized framework for evaluating digital accessibility in the EU, conforming to these criteria at an AA level is the most effective strategy for organizations to commence ensuring compliance with the EAA.


Each EU member state is responsible for enforcing the EAA, granting them the authority to determine suitable penalties for noncompliance. However, they must ensure that the enforcement measures are "effective, proportionate, and dissuasive." Consumers should have accessible channels to report infringements to a court or the relevant enforcing body within their country.

As the EAA will only become enforceable in 2025, specific details about fines are not available yet. Nonetheless, other regulations, such as the GDPR, demonstrate that fines for non-compliance can reach up to €20 million or 4% of the worldwide annual revenue of the prior fiscal year, whichever is higher.

In the United States, website accessibility violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can lead to penalties ranging from $20,000 to $75,000 for a first violation and up to $150,000 for subsequent violations.

Considering these potential penalties and the forthcoming enforcement of the EAA, businesses must prioritize compliance to avoid significant financial consequences and protect their reputation in the European market.

A chart showing the amount of GDPR fines. By May 2023 fines are already double of the previous year totalling over EUR 1,623,000 million.A chart showing the increasing number of accessibility lawsuits in the US federal court. 2022 had a record of 3,255 cases.


Companies are given until June 28, 2025, to comply with the EAA. Although it might seem like a long timeframe, the complexity involved in implementing the new requirements demands that preparations start now. The three-year period was carefully chosen to account for the expected challenges in ensuring compliance. A similar comparison can be drawn to the adoption of GDPR, where companies were given only two years to prepare.

A timeline showing the rollout of the EAA. In April 2019 the act came into effect. In June 2022 national laws were passed. In June 2025 the national laws become enforceable.

Ensuring compliance

Ensuring compliance with the EAA involves a step-by-step process prioritizing accessibility in digital products and services.

How my accessibility audits ensure compliance

Screenshot from an audit of mine, showing a comprehensive section about focus indicators including the why and the how as well with a code snippet.

Taking all these considerations into account, my accessibility audits are designed to encompass various aspects of accessibility compliance. They not only identify areas of non-compliance but also incorporate training, usability testing with users with disabilities, and remediation of any uncovered issues, all within the scope of a single audit.

Additionally, I offer consultations to help your team set and execute an effective strategy to ensure long-term accessibility and avoid costly re-audits.

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