The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a set of accessibility laws applying to the private sector that were passed by the European Union (EU) to complement the EU’s Web Accessibility Directive (Directive (EU) 2016/2102), which applies to websites and applications belonging to public sector organizations and provides general accessibility regulations for products and services.

The EAA came into force in April 2019 and establishes minimal accessibility standards for a variety of goods and services within the EU. Like the Web Accessibility Directive, the EAA is an EU Directive which directs Member States, as EU member countries are known, to enact laws in their respective countries. Member States had until June 2022 to transpose the EAA’s accessibility provisions into domestic legislation and must ensure that they are enforced by June 2025. 

The EAA’s required digital accessibility standard is European standard EN 301 549. It sets the accessibility criteria for all information and communication technologies. Although it  adopts the WCAG 2.1 AA standards for web content, electronic documents, and non-web applications, it also provides some additional compliance criteria.

How Does the EAA Impact Companies Doing Business in the EU? What exactly does the EAA apply to?

According to the EAA, companies in the following areas must comply with the Directive: 

  • consumer-grade general-purpose computer hardware and their operating systems
  • self-service terminals, including payment terminals, automated teller machines, ticket vending machines, check-in machines, and interactive self-service terminals that provide information
  • equipment for interactive computing on consumer terminals that is used for electronic communications services
  • consumer electronics having interactive computer capabilities that are used to access media services for audiovisual content
  • e-readers

The Directive applies to the following services provided to consumers:

  • electronic communications services
  • services offering access to media services for audio and video
  • the following components of air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport services, with the exception of urban, suburban, and regional transport services: websites, mobile device-based services, electronic tickets and services, delivery of transport service information, and interactive self-service terminals situated inside EU territory
  • financial services for consumers
  • electronic books and specialty software
  • answering emergency calls to the unified 112 emergency number throughout Europe

The bottom line is that if you operate a business within the EU, sooner or later, you will need to comply with web accessibility regulatory norms. 

The EAA’s goal is to enable private companies to sell compliant products and services throughout the EU, expanding consumer options by harmonizing accessibility rules. More pointedly, it empowers organizations of various sizes to design products, environments, programs, and services all people can use without requiring modification or customized design. 

Additionally, an online presence is a given for both users and web page owners, and complying with the EAA digital accessibility requirements benefits your company by:

  • reaching a wider audience
  • presenting a more inclusive brand presence online
  • remaining ahead of the curve in terms of regulatory compliance and potential business expansion to other jurisdictions

What are the main compliance requirements for digital accessibility?

To meet the new accessibility legislation, companies must: 

  • Design products and services that are easy to use and navigate and provide alternative methods of accessing them
  • Provide appropriate customer service for people with disabilities, such as providing information in alternative formats and staying updated on related requirements
  • Train customer service staff on accessibility standards and the rights of people with disabilities
  • Have a proper declaration of conformity containing the terms highlighted in the EAA
  • Offer available, up-to-date information about their products and services, including the accessibility features they include

As for the Member States, they must:

  • Appoint a special authority to investigate accessibility compliance and ensure that the public is informed of the existence of the appointed authorities
  • Follow-up on complaints or reports of non-compliance and ensure that service providers take necessary corrective measures
  • Create enforcement policies, including penalties and effective remedial action in cases of non-compliance, and provisions whereby a consumer may take action under national law before the courts or before the competent administrative bodies

What has been done so far? Penalties, sanctions and incentives

Although it is still uncertain what complete compliance would entail in particular, several EU nations already have a solid foundation for web accessibility regulations and incentives.

Spain, for example, is among the most advanced in terms of digital accessibility regulations and enforcement. Domestic fines range from EUR 301 to EUR 1,000,000. In a 2018 landmark decision, Spanish airline Vueling was fined EUR 90,000 for failing to meet over 70% of the accessibility conditions imposed by current legislation. According to the Ministry of Social Rights, the portal only satisfied 11 of the 38 web accessibility standards. 

In Portugal, the government has set up Digital Maturity Seals for businesses. The Digital Maturity Seals (SMD) are one of the measures of the Digital Transition Action Plan to promote the digital transformation of the economy. Companies or entities that comply with a set of regulations and guidelines in line with best practices and European requirements can be certified. 

Parting Words on Accessibility Regulations

The European Accessibility Act will have global consequences, as any company developing the products and services covered by the act for sale or usage in the EU must follow the provisions even if not based in the region. 

But more than the obligation of compliance, businesses that prioritize accessibility develop better products since products complying with accessibility legislations are easier to understand and use and more appealing to all customers.

Corporate social responsibility is an important component of every business, and you can demonstrate it by delivering accessible goods to your target audience, lowering obstacles, and increasing the user experience based on equality standards.

Web accessibility is an exceptional move for the company and a significant step towards digital equality. 

UserWay Digital Accessibility Services

UserWay is committed to helping you comply with the EAA and other regulatory guidelines. UserWay’s comprehensive suite of solutions—including the powerful AI Widget—can make your site more compliant and accessible to people with disabilities. 

We are here to help, please get in touch with us to know more about our services.

Common FAQs

Is WCAG 2.1 a legal requirement in the EU?

The EU has developed its own standard, the EN 301 549 (v3.2.1). It adheres to WCAG 2.1 AA standards but also contains some additional requirements and criteria, most notably to electronic documents that are not stored on the Web.

But we are here to help, get in touch now to see how your business can be compliant with the EN 301 549.

What to expect from the European Accessibility Act after June 2022?

All EU Member States must have transposed the European Accessibility Act into their domestic legislation by June 2022 and ensure that it is enforced by June 2025. Each Member State has some leeway when it comes to establishing implementation timeframes and criteria.   For example, each Member State must establish regulations for compliance and enforcement, including establishing penalties and fines for non-compliance.

Most EU countries already have a good framework for online accessibility legislation and incentives. So business owners can expect Member States’ adoption of the EAA to bring on tougher regulations and penalties for non-compliance. 

Which organizations are exempt from the new accessibility law?

Although the EAA encourages all businesses to comply with its provisions, the following entities are fully exempt from compliance:

  • Small and medium businesses with less than 10 workers and an annual turnover of no more than 2 million Euros
  • Companies in which compliance with the EAA would impose a disproportionate burden