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European Accessibility Act: Overview and Comprehensive Guide

The General Assembly of the United Nations estimates that there are currently more than 1.5 billion people with disabilities worldwide. Due to increasingly aging societies, that number is expected to continue growing in the coming years.

In the United States, a civil rights law named Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, aiming to prohibit employment discrimination for people with disabilities, as well as to guarantee them equal access to public services and transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, and telephone and internet services.

But what about the accessibility legal requirements when it comes to the European Union?  

Does the EU have an ADA Equivalent?

According to the 2022 estimates by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, 27% of the total EU population over the age of 16 has some form of disability. That equals approximately 101 million people or 1 in 4 adults in the EU.

The European Accessibility Act is a law aimed to remove barriers to access for all people with disabilities in the EU. In this regard, it is very much a corresponding ADA equivalent for the countries in the EU.

What is the EDF European Accessibility Act?

The European Accessibility Act is a directive of the European Union that ensures the accessibility and affordability of products and services by improving their trade within the countries that are union members (aka member states).

In many ways, the European Accessibility Act is the product of years of advocacy efforts by the European Disability Forum (EDF). EDF is an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities whose mission is to promote disability rights in Europe and ensure the full societal inclusion of persons with disabilities in the EU.

The idea behind the act was to improve the lives of people living with disabilities in the EU, both people with permanent disabilities and those with temporary disabilities, such as older people with temporary impairments.

Its main goal is to synchronise accessibility rules for all member states, thus enhancing how products and services are made available throughout the EU.

For people with disabilities and the elderly, the European Accessibility Act includes more accessible products and services at more competitive prices, fewer barriers in transportation, education, and employment sectors.

For businesses, it means establishing easier cross-border trading, more market opportunities for accessible products and services in other member states, and cost reductions due to the shared rules on accessibility throughout the EU.

The European Accessibility Act was built to complement the EU's Web Accessibility Directive, a 2016 directive whose goal was to ensure that all public sector organisations of EU member states are accessible to people with disabilities.

In addition, the European Accessibility Act also reflects the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations signed in 2007 with the goal of protecting the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

The European Accessibility Act took effect in April 2019, with all the EU member states having been required to adopt its laws, regulations, and administrative provisions by June 28, 2022, and implement them by June 28, 2025.  

What Does the European Accessibility Act 2025 Include?

The scope of the European Accessibility Act includes both physical and digital aspects of accessibility. Those areas include but are not limited to:

  1. Digital accessibility - ensuring that websites, digital platforms, e-commerce services, e-books, etc. are fully accessible to all users in adherence to the international standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  2. Audiovisual media accessibility - ensuring that TV broadcast and related consumer and digital television equipment offer services such as captions, subtitles, transcripts, audio descriptions and other features for individuals with hearing and visual impairments
  3. Assistive technologies accessibility - ensuring that assistive technology tools such as screen reading and voice recognition software are compatible with a wide variety of personal devices
  4. Electronic communication accessibility - ensuring that computers, telephony services and related equipment, smartphones, tablets, other personal devices as well as their operating systems offer options that make them accessible to users with disabilities; note that ticketing, check-in machines, etc. are also included in this category.
  5. Banking accessibility - ensuring that banking services, including ATMs, are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities so that they can make their own financial decisions without any restrictions
  6. Public transportation accessibility - ensuring that all public transportation services including transport by air, bus, rail and waterborne transport are accessible to every passenger

What are the Exceptions to the European Accessibility Act?

As mentioned earlier, the requirements of the European Accessibility Act must be implemented by June 28, 2025.

However, certain exceptions exist to this directive's requirements and obligations. Namely, the European Accessibility Act does not apply to:

  1. Business enterprises that employ fewer than 10 persons
  2. Business enterprises whose annual turnover does not exceed 2 million Euro
  3. Business enterprises whose total annual business sheet does not exceed 2 million Euro

Although these business enterprises are legally exempt from the requirements and obligations of the European Accessibility Act, they are still encouraged to provide products and services that comply with the accessibility requirements of this directive in order to increase their business competitiveness and growth potential in the EU market.

The European Accessibility Act Implementation Guide

Even though the June 2025 deadline for the European Accessibility Act is fast approaching, there are actionable steps businesses can take today to make sure they are fully prepared for the upcoming transition:

  1. Consult web accessibility experts to comprehensively audit your website and digital platform, and request their expertise in finding improvements and solutions to any accessibility gaps.
  2. Budget and plan for, then implement these web accessibility improvements and solutions, such as captions and transcripts for video and audio content, ALT text for images, full keyboard navigation, sufficient colour contrast between the foreground and background, etc.
  3. Educate your staff on the best accessibility-related practices to create a more inclusive environment that will help ensure ongoing accessibility compliance.
  4. Continue conducting regular tests and stay up-to-date on the European Accessibility Act and WCAG guidelines as the implementation continues to unfold in the coming years.

EDF Recommendations for the Implementation of the European Accessibility Act

EDF has published a list of the 10 web accessibility rules that businesses should follow in their implementation of the European Accessibility Act:

  1. Add alternative text to non-text elements
  2. Organise and structure your content to ensure clearer and easier navigation  
  3. Do not depend on a single sense, e.g., relying on colour to convey meaning or information
  4. Ensure keyboard functionality
  5. Allow enough time for users to read and perform tasks
  6. Avoid multimedia components that start automatically
  7. Clearly identify hyperlinks and content
  8. Use consistent interfaces
  9. Help users avoid mistakes
  10. Test your content on assistive technologies

EDF has also published a European Accessibility Act Toolkit for Transposition that includes a list of tools and proposals that disability advocates can use to help improve national legislation and proper implementation of the European Accessibility Act.

With the exception of those smaller business enterprises mentioned above, all businesses operating in the EU must introduce accessibility features into all their products and services by June 28, 2025. After the implementation, a reporting and review period must be completed by June 28, 2030, with another one to follow every five years after that.

With the European Accessibility Act, the EU has made a step forward in fostering inclusivity and creating a more accessible society for everyone, including individuals with disability. This directive will help ensure equal access to products and services, remove barriers, and bridge gaps in employment and education opportunities for people with disabilities.

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