The European Accessibility Act: Making digital equality a reality for all
By Lorna Fitzpatrick, Account Manager, Public Policy, Dublin
1 in 4 European adults have some form of disability yet many products, services and digital platforms are not accessible. People with disabilities face numerous barriers when completing everyday tasks like buying food, booking a train ticket, applying for a job or taking cash out of an ATM. That is a daily experience for the 87 million people across Europe with some form of disability.
That’s why the European Parliament has adopted the European Accessibility Act (EAA) in 2019 which will come into effect from 28th June 2025 and will address many issues with digital inaccessibility – but not all.
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Legislating for digital equality
Digital accessibility has been a feature for public bodies since the introduction of the EU Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102) in 2016, which requires all public bodies to ensure their websites and applications are digitally accessible.
It has been possible for member states to introduce legislation surrounding digital accessibility for private companies but there has been no standard approach until now. The EU believes, and I tend to agree, that introducing a singular baseline approach will be a positive step forward for customers but also for businesses, as uncertainty about requirements will be removed.
Why should we care about digital accessibility?
The EAA will create a barrier-free market in the EU by setting minimum accessibility requirements for a range of products and services brought to the market after 28th June 2025. It will impact sectors such as:
- Transport (in relation to ticketing, check-in machines and real-time information provision)
- Technology in terms of smart phones and phone services
- TV equipment and services.
Investing in digital inclusion
Compliance with the new digital equality regulations will require investment, but it will also open up a whole new customer base for many. Remember that a quarter of Europeans are classified as having some form of disability, including those with short-term impairments, so there is a large cohort of the European population who could inadvertently be prevented from purchasing products or services due to a lack of awareness or investment in accessibility.
In 2019, UK research found that £17.1bn worth of possible sales were lost when customers with access needs left a website or application due to inaccessibility. So – there’s a financial opportunity for organisations who ensure their digital platforms are accessible for the millions of customers with disabilities.
Legal requirements for digital accessibility
From 2025, the EAA will provide customers with the right to file complaints within their state against organisations if their products or services are in breach of the act, as can public bodies or private associations with legitimate interest. The financial risk caused by these complaints may not be huge but there is potential for significant reputational risk which could lead to further financial impacts as people with disabilities are more likely to support businesses that are committed to accessibility.
Time is ticking to close the digital divide
We can choose to look at the EAA as a chore or a chance to drive innovation. For me, it’s a major opportunity for businesses to become more aware of the needs of people with disabilities and to improve the accessibility of their products and services, which in turn can lead to more equitable societies.
We know there is a significant market across the disabled digital divide that can help build a stronger bottom line. Ultimately, our responsibility to one another and our belief in equality should be the driving force to facilitate technology access rather than the threat of fines or reputation damage.
- Conduct an audit of your products, services and platforms that are impacted by this legislation and take the steps required to comply with the legislation.
- Update your new product or service development processes to ensure all future innovation has accessibility at its core.
- Set up a disabled stakeholder group to ensure your direction is informed by disabled people.