Although some people consider accessibility regulations tough on businesses and feel that it should be left for companies themselves to decide who their target audience and clients are, creating accessible services for everyone is not only the right thing to do, but is also good for business.
Accessibility has been a requirement for the public sector since 2019 already, but broad requirements for the private sector are coming into effect in June 2025.
In Europe alone there are 80 million people with disabilities of some degree and globally the number is estimated at 1.3 billion people, or about 16% of the world’s population – and who have nearly half a trillion dollars in spending power worldwide.
In this article, I’ll briefly share my own story (I too used to think of accessibility as more of a burden than an opportunity), and will also provide some detailed information on the legislation that will affect but also create possibilities for nearly all businesses in the EU.
My own accessibility journey
Yes, I admit that I wasn’t always that much into accessibility. At one point, I saw it as a limitation to my creativity. As a young and eager designer, I wanted to create captivating websites with fashionable designs. But, as it would happen, I found myself working in the government sector, where I quickly learned about minimum color contrasts, legible font sizes, and other visual necessities required for accessibility. In my mind, they clashed with the design trends of the time – the faint color combinations, flashy graphics, and custom interactive components that were becoming possible with the emerging technologies of “Web 2.0”. I used to think that accessibility was only really necessary for essential government services, and I couldn’t see how those two worlds could coexist.
However, as I was forced to face my own challenges with a visual disability, I started to realize the importance of making life easier for everyone, regardless of their abilities. The idea that we will all grow old and will most likely need accessible services one day didn’t seem so far off to me anymore. Fearing the loss of my own independence, I understood that it’s essential that we ensure everyone can live as independently and self-sufficiently as possible, no matter what challenges we are faced with.
The web has become an integral part of modern life and our dependence on digital products and services will only continue to increase in the future and the COVID-pandemic really sped up the digitalization trend of many consumer services. Without equal access to services, people can be marginalized and exposed to poverty and discrimination, which comes at a high cost to society. To reduce that risk and to look forward to an inclusive digital landscape, we must all participate in making our products and services more accessible.
The more I’ve learned about web accessibility, the more I understand that the web can be exciting and innovative, look great, and work even better. Accessibility remains on the fringes of the web-development world, but with the new European Accessibility Act, more businesses, developers, and designers than ever before will undoubtedly become more aware of accessibility and its benefits.
A look at EU disability legislation
The European Parliament is committed to making the European Union more inclusive. People living with disabilities still face systemic discrimination and challenges in their daily lives and accessing the labor market. In response, the European Commission has adopted a 10-year strategy to ensure equal access to healthcare, employment, public transport, societal and economic participation, freedom of choice in living arrangements, unrestricted movement within the EU, and an end to discrimination for all persons with disabilities in Europe.
The previous EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020, with its emphasis on “digital inclusion,” laid the groundwork for a barrier-free Europe and introduced the EU Directive 2016/2102, the current law on web accessibility for public services. The ongoing EU Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 continues to align with the obligations agreed upon by all EU member states under the 2008 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and continues to build on the themes of the previous strategy and its main priority is to guarantee equal access to digital services.
The EU Accessibility Act
The new European Accessibility Act (EAA, EU Directive 2019/882) was introduced to complement the existing directive on public services. The EAA specifically focuses on ITC products and services, including personal devices, which are crucial for the full participation of persons with disabilities in our digitally connected society. The directive also aims to enhance product and service delivery across the EU by harmonizing accessibility rules for all member states.
While the previous directive covered essential public services like government, municipal, financial, and energy sector websites, the EAA establishes accessibility requirements for key products and services, such as:
- E-commerce websites and apps,
- Computers and operating systems (including gaming consoles),
- Ticketing and check-in machines (e.g., public transit payment terminals),
- Devices for accessing audiovisual media services (e.g., digital TV receivers and digital televisions),
- Services related to air, bus, rail, and waterborne passenger transport (e.g., departure/arrival displays),
- Banking services (e.g., ATM machines, payment systems),
- E-books and software for their use,
- Emergency number calls (112),
- Built environment,
- Public procurement.
The directive came into effect in April 2019 and was entered into Finnish law on February, 2023 (document in FI), although its application will not begin until June 28th, 2025. It affects all EU-based companies and those targeting EU customers who provide services or products listed above. Micro-enterprises are exempt (businesses with fewer than 10 employees and annual turnover not exceeding 2 million Euros). Other exemptions include:
- Pre-recorded time-based media published before the 28th of June 2025.
- Office file format documents published before 25th of June 2025.
- Online maps unless the map is used for navigational purposes, in which case the essential information must be provided in an accessible format.
- Third-party content that is entirely out of the control of the website or app owner.
- Reproductions of items in heritage collections that are too fragile or expensive to digitize.
- The content of websites and apps which are considered archival and are no longer updated or edited.
As with the previous directive, online services, such as e-commerce websites and mobile apps, need to ensure that their content is accessible according to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
Accessible products and services benefit us all
More than 80 million people in the EU are affected by a disability to some degree, which means that a very large proportion of the population in the EU still encounters significant barriers to their full participation in society. As the population of elderly persons is projected to rise, this figure will continue to increase.
Initially, some businesses might face additional costs to ensure that their offerings comply with the accessibility requirements outlined in the directive. Implementing accessibility features may also require investment in design, development, and testing. Businesses may also need to allocate resources for training staff in accessibility guidelines and best practices. To create services with content that fulfills accessibility requirements, content producers should, at the very least, be aware of the main principles of accessibility.
However, companies that prioritize accessibility may gain a competitive edge over those that do not. People with disabilities have nearly half a trillion dollars in spending power around the globe and by making products and services accessible to people with disabilities. Businesses can tap into this substantial customer base, enhance brand image and boost customer loyalty. And as a great additional bonus – accessible web services also tend to have better search engine rankings, load faster on mobile devices, and have longer and more robust life cycles.
Digital accessibility presents an exciting opportunity for innovation that I find particularly compelling. Achieving compliance may require effort and initial investment, but by embracing accessibility, companies can unlock new possibilities for improving their products and services in ways they may not have considered before.