The global implications of the European Accessibility Act


  • EAA
  • Legal Intelligence
  • ADA
  • EN 301 349


  • European Union
  • United States

Driving the news:

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) — a set of rules that harmonize accessibility standards across the EU — is coming into view this year as authorities and companies across the continent’s 27 member states gear up to comply with Europe’s newest regulations regarding the digital space. It is a big step forward in the global movement towards more inclusive societies and digital environments. 

Much like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) before it, which set a new global standard for data protection and privacy and whose terms bind companies that do business with the EU’s 500 million citizens, the EAA – which comes into effect in 2025 – is poised to have far-reaching implications beyond the borders of the European Union. 

Companies outside the EU must align their products and services with the EAA’s accessibility standards to tap into the lucrative European market and avoid the risk of hefty fines and reputational damage. 

Consequences of non-compliance:

EU member countries are empowered to impose substantial penalties for non-compliance, underscoring the seriousness with which the EU views accessibility. Fines can be severe, from €20,000 to as much as 5% of a company’s annual global turnover, depending on the specific legislation enacted by each EU member state. Ireland’s S.I. No. 636/2023, for example, has taken a particularly stringent stance by including the possibility of prison time for some offenses to the Irish version of the EAA law.

Beyond financial penalties, the Member States’ transpositions of the EAA allow the suspension of non-compliant products or services from the market, including apps and online services. Additionally, it opens the door for civil liability, meaning individuals or organizations across 27 countries can take legal action against companies that fail to meet the required accessibility standards. 

Global implications of the EAA:

To comply with the EAA, foreign companies must ensure their products and services meet specific accessibility requirements before entering the EU market. The same applies for foreign companies already doing business in the EU.

Businesses are required to conduct thorough accessibility assessments of their products and services, which may include:

  • Modifications to user interfaces, ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies
  • Providing accessible documentation and customer support
  • Staying informed about any updates or changes to the EAA regulations to maintain compliance
  • Training staff on accessibility principles and the importance of inclusive design
  • Establishing a robust internal process for continuous accessibility evaluation and improvement

Synergy with other EU digital laws of global significance:  

The EU Artificial Intelligence Act (EU AI Act) further illustrates the EU’s comprehensive, inclusive, and accessible approach to digital regulation, with specific provisions directly mentioning compliance with digital accessibility. 

Such provisions in the EU AI Act could encourage non-EU countries to consider how their own AI technologies and digital services meet these standards, potentially adopting similar regulations to facilitate international trade and cooperation. Furthermore, it reinforces the EU’s commitment to an inclusive digital future and showcases the importance of integrating accessibility into the DNA of digital products and services from the ground up.

More than law:

The EAA and the European accessibility standard norme EN 301 549 are the authoritative set of rules on digital accessibility. Compliance with the EAA goes beyond the legal requirements. Companies that demonstrate compliance can improve their brand image and reputation, signaling a commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. This can be a significant competitive advantage, especially in Europe, where there is consistent emphasis on human rights and the integration of social values into business practices through ESG frameworks.

Additionally, by adhering to the EAA, companies can appeal to a wider audience, including the millions of individuals in the EU with disabilities. This expands the customer base and aligns with broader social responsibility goals and ESG policies. With the annual disposable income for Europeans with disabilities estimated at over €800 billion, making websites and apps accessible is not just a legal obligation but a savvy business strategy.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Europe’s EAA: 

The EAA reflects a global trend towards stricter digital accessibility standards. The EU’s digital accessibility requirements are among the clearest and most comprehensive, similar to the GDPR and EU AI Act. This means that non-EU businesses complying with these standards are well-prepared for similar regulations in other markets.

For instance, the recent final rule signed by the Attorney General, updating regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), mandates that web content and mobile applications provided by state and local governments adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.1, Level AA. Compliance timelines are set within two to three years from publication, varying based on the population size served by the respective government entity. 

Looking forward:

The EAA is a landmark legislation with far-reaching consequences for global companies. The potential for significant fines, market suspension, prison time in certain jurisdictions, and civil liability, strongly incentivises companies to prioritize accessibility. This act signals a shift in legislative priorities, with potential global implications for integrating accessibility into the digital economy. 

Ultimately, proactive adaptation and commitment to accessibility standards are essential for foreign companies aiming to expand their presence in the EU market while aligning with its regulatory framework and social inclusion objectives.

Related articles

The silhouettes of a group of 9 figures sit at a table in a conference room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a skyline of skyscrapers at sunset
01 May 2024
Massachusetts rolls out digital accessibility initiatives
Profile image of Sarah Bard, a white woman with blond hair and a light purple blazer looking into the camera and smiling

Sarah Bard

Read the article