The European Accessibility Act (EAA), or Directive 2019/882, is a landmark piece of legislation that went into effect on June 28, 2022. It requires that products and services be made accessible to people with disabilities, including websites and digital content. This applies to private sector as well as public organizations: if you are doing business in any EU member state, your company must comply with EAA regulations by June of 2025. This article offers an overview of the EAA: a summary of its history, its requirements, and how to make your digital products compliant.
Europe, a global center of commerce and trade, is a cultural mosaic, with a diverse array of languages, traditions, and customs. Timeless traditions and contemporary values coexist and blend here. Some of the earliest developments in science and philosophy evolved here: ancient Greece and Rome were the birthplace of the democratic governance that we still use today.
Europe is majestically beautiful, with soaring urban skyline panoramas and charming, timeless vignettes tucked away in the hidden corners of bustling metropolises. Its idyllic pastoral scenes range from the fjords of Norway to the rolling hills of Tuscany. It’s a place that creates beauty, too. The artistic heritage of Europe impacts our world in ways we're still understanding. European cities like Paris, London, Berlin, and Barcelona are known for their art, and for their vibrant society and nightlife. Some of the world’s oldest universities are located in Europe, such as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and the University of Bologna in Italy, with world-renowned professors, scholars, and researchers. The diverse student body and international partnerships between European universities foster a rich environment for intercultural dialogue and global understanding.
And, of course, Europe has had, and still has, a profound influence on global politics, economics, and culture. Europe has historically led much of the world in science, technology, industry, and engineering, and now, is in the front ranks in its commitment to sustainable practices and inclusive communities. It’s no coincidence that the continent of poets, painters, scholars, scientists, philosophers and composers is also a region that is working together to build a better future for all. And that future includes accessibility, starting now.
In today’s digital age, web accessibility is not a great add-on feature. It's an indispensable and fundamental aspect of any online presence. And while accessibility government-mandated, it’s not for government bodies and buildings only. Website and digital accessibility is a must for organizations and businesses of every size and in every sector.
Web accessibility is the practice of designing and developing websites and digital content so that they are accessible to all users, including people with disabilities including blindness and visual impairments, deafness and hearing impairments, mobility impairments, cognitive impairments, and other disabilities. Implementing web or digital accessibility means making your website and other digital collateral usable for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
Web accessibility is important for many reasons. First and foremost, it is a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to access information and services online, without barriers. This includes people with disabilities, older adults, and people who may be temporarily impaired or simply in an inconvenient environment, such as a loud, busy, or especially dark or bright setting.
The imperative to make websites accessible stems from a commitment to inclusivity, making and keeping the internet an open space for all. As our lives become increasingly intertwined with the digital domain, the significance of web accessibility has skyrocketed, making it a central topic in discussions about equality, innovation, and user experience.
Web accessibility is also good for business. Companies and organizations that make their websites and digital content accessible reach a wider audience and increase their customer base. And, making websites, web apps, and online or electronic documents and interfaces accessible makes them more usable for everyone. We all have a stake in inclusivity, as a group and individually. And when we make digital content accessible, everyone wins.
Web accessibility is becoming increasingly important as more and more people rely on the internet for information, education, and commerce. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people worldwide have a disability of some kind. We should make sure the digital doors are open to them, as much as anyone else.
The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that requires certain products and services used, manufactured, or marked in the EU to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes website and digital content, as well as other software, hardware, and digital services. The EAA came into effect in 2019 and applies to all EU member states. What’s different about it? It introduces a unified framework for accessibility standards, aimed at dismantling barriers caused by multiple, at times conflicting regulations across member states.
The European Accessibility Act’s goal is fostering greater inclusivity within the digital realm. Birthed from years of advocacy and the evident need for standardized accessibility practices, the EAA marks a significant stride in making digital services and products more accessible to all, especially those with disabilities. Its ultimate purpose is ordaining a more equitable digital landscape.
The European Accessibility Act is a welcome solution. It streamlines the path for accessible goods and services within the internal EU market, and it effectively eliminates hurdles arising from differing regulations across Member States, including those pertaining to equal access to transportation, education, and the labor market. Its positive impact extends beyond individuals with disabilities, reaching businesses as well. Harmonized EU accessibility standards will translate into reduced costs, simplified cross-border trade, and broader market opportunities.
The EAA is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was adopted in 2006. The CRPD is a treaty that recognizes the rights of people with disabilities and requires countries to take steps to ensure that those rights are respected.
Previous to the EAA, the EU focused accessibility requirements on public-sector apps and websites under the EU Web Accessibility Directive, the EN 301 549 (PDF), which took effect in 2014. This law covered what’s commonly known as ICT in both Europe and the US: ICT stands for Information and Communications Technology. The EN 301 549 law was a group effort by the CEN-CENELEC (European Electrotechnical Committee for Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) committees, or, collectively the European Standardization Committees. These three groups define and develop standards that should be voluntarily met in the EU. These specific digital accessibility standards were then made legally binding by EU government bodies.
The EAA was created in response to concerns that people with disabilities were facing barriers to accessing websites and digital content. A 2016 study by the European Commission found that only 10% of websites in the EU were fully accessible to people with disabilities. In its 2018 update, the WCAG version 2.1 was adopted as the EN 301 549’s base set of guidelines. In 2022, all member states of the EU were required to commute EAA requirements into local national law, with a deadline of three years to bring their products and services into compliance with EU standards.
The EN 301 549 accessibility law has been adopted by countries and organizations outside the European Union, including the European Free Trade Union (EFTA) members Iceland and Norway, as well as Turkey and Australia. This broader adoption simplifies trade and expands access to products manufactured in these regions.
The EAA extended the EN 301 549’s digital accessibility requirements to private companies as well, for a broader scope of accessibility compliance. This comprehensive approach should help create a more inclusive digital landscape for all users in Europe, as well as setting an example that other places would do well to follow. Interestingly, Australia (and subsequently New Zealand) also adopted and adapted the EN 301 549 under the Commonwealth Procurement Laws, as the Australian Accessibility Standard AS EN 301 549 and the AS ISO/IEC 30071.1
While the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG, pronounced woo-kag, currently in version 2.2) have long served as the gold standard for accessibility best practices in many places, the WCAG have never themselves had legal enforcement: the WCAG is a project of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium, is a nongovernmental organization that develops international standards for the web. Other countries around the world, including the US and its ADA, have used the WCAG as a guide and valuable resource for setting accessibility laws and practical requirements. The EAA is the first European initiative to hold legal accountability for accessibility requirements that apply to organizations in the private as well as public sectors.
It is still too early to say definitively whether the actual percentage of accessible websites in Europe has significantly increased since the passing of the European Accessibility Act (EAA) in 2019. The EAA developed earlier, but it only came into force in June 2022, and organizations were granted a grace period of three years to comply with its requirements. Many organizations are still in the process of making their websites and other digital content accessible. The upsurge in accessibility improvements is still to be felt in the real world.
However, there are some early indications that the EAA is having a positive impact on the accessibility of websites in Europe. For example, a study by the European Commission found that the percentage of websites in Europe that met the minimum accessibility requirements of the EAA increased from 18% in 2020 to 23% in 2022.
Another study, by the WebAIM research team, found that the percentage of websites in the top 1 million websites globally that met the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA standard increased from 28.7% in 2021 to 31.2% in 2023. While this increase is relatively small, it is important to note that the WCAG 2.1 Level AA standard is the most widely accepted standard for web accessibility. The WCAG 2.2 has only just been introduced, and cannot yet be enforced.
Overall, it is clear that the EAA is having a positive impact on the accessibility of websites in Europe. However, more time is needed to assess the current impact of the EAA. Going forward, here are some additional factors that could impact the percentage of accessible websites in Europe in the coming years:
The ultimate purpose of the EAA is to make websites and digital content accessible to everyone, regardless of their disability. On the whole, it will contribute to the effort of getting everyone full and equal access to information, education, and commerce, without unnecessary barriers in their way.
The European Accessibility Act covers people with a broad spectrum of disabilities. This includes but is not limited to visual, auditory, cognitive, motor or mobility, and speech impairments. By encompassing a diverse range of needs, the act takes a thorough approach to digital accessibility. The EAA supports a wide range of disabilities, including:
The European Accessibility Act mandates accessibility for a diverse range of products and services deemed essential for individuals with disabilities, addressing the varying accessibility regulations within different EU nations.
With the guidance of accessibility experts and stakeholders, the Commission aligned the Act with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to effect comprehensive accessibility standards.
All individuals in countries under EAA laws must be able to:
A Comprehensive Look
Compliance with the European Accessibility Act for websites, web apps, and other electronic or online deliverables involves a multifaceted approach based on WCAG guidelines, addressing various elements of your digital content:
Following the European Accessibility Act to implement web & digital accessibility is not always an quick or easy process. However, it is fairly straightforward when you follow the WCAG guidelines, as well as keeping in mind good general accessibility advice, such as the following:
The European Accessibility Act is a beacon, guiding us toward a future where digital inclusivity is the norm, not the exception. It is a groundbreaking piece of legislation, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable human community. This landmark act mandates that important products and services be accessible to all, including websites and digital content. This is a significant step: it means that, pending compliance, everyone will eventually have truly equal access to information, education, and commerce.
To comply with the EAA, websites and digital content must be made accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. By following the EAA and WCAG guidelines, businesses and organizations can play a vital role in creating a more accessible digital world. This will remove unnecessary barriers that are currently in the way of people with disabilities, so they can fully participate in modern life, reach their full potential, and thrive.
Imagine a future where everyone has equal access to information, education, and employment opportunities, where we all connect with others without barriers. The EAA is making this vision a reality, one accessible website at a time.
It is a collective responsibility we bear, to make the digital world accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities. Together, we can create a brighter future for all, where everyone can reach their full potential. Let us embrace the EAA as an opportunity to build a more inclusive and equitable society, where everyone can thrive. As we move onward into tomorrow, let’s carry the spirit of inclusivity and equality with us, creating a digital landscape that truly welcomes everyone.
The EAA is a piece of legislation that requires certain products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes a mandate for compliant websites and digital content.
The EAA supports a wide range of disabilities, including visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, and cognitive impairments.
The EAA covers a range of frequently used hardware and software technologies, as well as digital or electronic products and services, including: Computers, smartphones and other mobile devices, and communication equipment, communication services including phone service, eCommerce and payment systems such as ATMs, payment terminals, and banking services, information access, entertainment and media such as websites, mobile apps, e-books, e-readers, audiovisual media services, and transportation items like ticketing machines and transportation services.
Use text alternatives for images and non-text content, provide captions and transcripts for video and audio materials, make all your forms and controls accessible, enable keyboard navigation throughout your site and make sure it’s working, and use consistent and logical design and layout.
Accessible websites reach a wider audience and improve user satisfaction across the board.
Businesses boost their brand reputation, increase their customer base, and reduce the risk of legal issues arising from noncompliance.
Yes, accessible websites tend to have better SEO. This is because they provide a better user experience, and they are easier for search engines to understand.
Yes. Individuals can advocate for accessibility, provide feedback to website owners, and support businesses that prioritize accessibility.