Published on

European Accessibility Act and the private sector

  • avatar
    Len Dierickx

Accessibility is an important issue for people with disabilities, as it ensures that everyone has equal access to online information and services.

The European Accessibility Act, which the European Union adopted in 2019, aims to make products and services more accessible for people with disabilities. Because the EAA applies to the private sector, accessibility is a direct and urgent issue for commercial enterprises.

The EAA includes websites, an essential part of everyday life for many people.

In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the European Accessibility Act and its impact on websites, including what it means for website owners and designers and how it will help make the internet a more inclusive place for everyone.

The Act applies to many products and services, including digital products and services like websites, software, and mobile apps. The EAA aims to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities to participate in society as everyone else.

People with disabilities often face barriers to accessing essential services via websites or mobile apps. By making online banking, healthcare and transport services more accessible, people with disabilities are more likely to have access to the same services as everyone else.

In addition, the EAA will also have an impact on businesses and organizations by promoting accessibility as a fundamental design principle. Inclusive design principles automatically result in more inclusive products and accessible services. The curb effects will benefit people with disabilities and older people with temporary disabilities and varying abilities.

What are the general EU web accessibility laws? #

The EU has several laws and regulations in place to ensure web accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The most notable is the Web Accessibility Directive (WAD), which was adopted in 2016 and requires all public sector websites and mobile apps in the EU to be fully accessible by 23 September 2020. This directive is binding, and all EU member states must transpose it into their national laws.

The Regulation on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies requires all public sector websites and mobile apps in the EU to be fully accessible by 23 September 2020.

All new public sector websites and apps must be designed to be fully accessible from the date of launch, and all existing public sector websites and apps must be made fully accessible by the deadline.

The Regulation also requires that public sector bodies carry out regular accessibility testing and provide an accessibility statement on their website. The Regulation also requires that public sector bodies consider accessibility when procuring ICT products and services.

Companies who do regular business with governments should take note of these requirements as they will likely impact your chances of winning public procurement.

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) adopted in 2020 aims to ensure that certain vital products and services are accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, the Act includes provisions that enable people with disabilities to fully participate in implementing the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030.

The Act ensures that everyone has access to a range of everyday products and services, including:

  • Phone services
  • Banking services
  • E-commerce
  • Websites, mobile services, electronic tickets and all sources of information for air, bus, rail and waterborne transport services
  • E-books
  • Access to Audio-visual media services (AVMS.)
  • Calls to the European emergency number 112

The Act includes private companies and anyone providing the above services.

Which companies have to comply? #

EAA applies to all companies providing products or services to the EU, regardless of location.

Unlike the other laws, the EAA applies to private companies selling products and services used by disabled people, with widely varying accessibility requirements across EU member states.

Are there any exemptions? #

Small companies that employ at most ten persons or have an annual turnover below EUR 2 million are exempt. An additional exception defines that if you can demonstrate "undue burden", you do not need to comply.

Additionally, there are limitations to what a company must make accessible.

The Act defines the following content exemptions:

  • Re-recorded time-based media published before 28 June 2025;
  • office file formats published before 28 June 2025;
  • online maps and mapping services if essential information is provided in an accessible digital manner for maps intended for navigational use;
  • third-party content that is neither funded, developed by, or under the control of the economic operator concerned;
  • content of websites and mobile applications qualifying as archives, meaning they only contain
  • content that needs to be updated or edited after 28 June 2025.

How will the EAA be enforced? #

The Act is enforced by each EU member state, which means they decide the penalties and appoint the enforcement body.

Consumers reporting non-compliance #

Consumers in each member state must be able to report non-compliance to courts or the authority responsible for enforcing the law. In addition, both private and public organizations must be able to go to court or file a complaint.

Penalties #

Member states enforce their own penalties for non-compliance, which should be "effective, proportionate, and dissuasive."

What is the EAA timeline? #

Ultimately your website needs to be compliant by July 2025.

Which standard has to be used to make your website compliant with the EAA? #

European Standard EN 301 549 is the document that defines the required accessibility standards. This standard adopts W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG.), which support many laws and standards around the world.

The document directly references WCAG 2.1 AA and follows the same structure for Web (Chapter 9), Non-web documents (Chapter 10) and non-web software like mobile apps (Chapter 11).

The standard EN 301 549 also follows the same underlying WCAG principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR).

There are, however, some differences between EN 301 549 and WCAG. Notably the requirement to make biological data such as facial recognition and fingerprints available to people with disabilities.

Additionally, there are some additional requirements for France (RGAA) and Germany 5BITV)

How do you make sure your website is compliant and accessible? #

Making your website compliant is always the first step before you can benefit from making your website fully inclusive for all people.

  1. Determine whether you have to make your website accessible or whether your company or digital services are exempt.
  2. Second, use an automated tool to fix all the baseline issues that make your website inaccessible. 75% of the problems will be resolved, and your consultant will go through this step anyway.
  3. Hire a consultant/trainer to help your web team (marketing, content, and IT) take the last step to full compliance
  4. Audit and monitor ongoing changes to make sure your web team continues to produce accessible websites.

How Sitefig can help #

Sitefig provides weekly accessibility reports and enables your web team to understand the issues and build a project plan to go from inaccessible to fully compliant websites.

Enterprise customer also benefits from our extensive partner network. If you need additional training or consultants to start, we can provide the necessary contacts to make the next step.