Digital Regulation

The EU Accessibility Act – Time to start implementation projects now

Published on 25th Jun 2024

The EU Accessibility Act will improve accessibility for millions of Europeans in the physical and digital world, requiring companies to put in place a range of accessibility measures. Businesses need to get ready for compliance as soon as possible.

Digital image of scales of justice

The EU Accessibility Act at a glance

Envision talking e-books, a wireless connection to hearing aids on a new tablet, or ensuring an online shop has assistive technology such as speech recognition software or screen readers. What may still sound like visions of the future for some companies or sectors is intended to become reality, thanks to the European Accessibility Act ("EAA")1. The European Union wants to enable people with disabilities to participate more fully in the digital world with national provisions that will be applicable from 28 June 2025.

The EAA is a milestone for people with disabilities: it harmonises the various accessibility requirements within the EU or introduces them for the first time for individual EU Member States. In this context, accessibility does not only mean "classic" accessibility in the sense of mobility, but also extends to digital accessibility. The EAA regulates a wide range of areas, from design requirements to product information, documentation obligations and even general terms and conditions

The implications for companies are immense. While EU legislation on accessibility previously applied primarily to public bodies, the EAA extends the remit to the private sector for the first time by making all businesses and organisations take positive actions to make products and services more accessible, rather than simply requiring them to be non-discriminatory under equality laws. At the same time, the new accessibility requirements are also an opportunity for companies to create more inclusive digital environments and reach new target groups. 

Compliance violations, however, are expensive and can result in significant enforcement action, as the Member States are obliged to set effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. In many Member States, competitors or consumer protection organisations may also be able to issue warnings for infringements. Enforcement measures go beyond traditional fines and include product withdrawals and bans, and dissuasive sanctions.

Companies should therefore familiarise themselves with the requirements at an early stage to ensure smooth implementation since the specific requirements are highly complex and require a long lead time. 

EAA in a Nutshell
  • The EAA is an EU directive (2019/882) that each Member State must transpose into national law. This means that whilst its principles will be included throughout the EU, some particular implementation requirements may vary between Member States. 
  • The EAA requirements only apply to selected products and services (e.g. the entirety of e-commerce and a wide range of electronic hardware) that are placed on the market or provided after 28 June 2025
  • The obligations apply to the private and public sectors.
  • There are limited transitional periods of up to 5 years for: (a) products used to provide services that were placed on the market prior to 28 June 2025 (e.g. set-top boxes for TV streaming services), and (b) service contracts in existence before this date. 
  • There are also exemptions where compliance demands "fundamental changes" to products and services or imposes disproportionate burdens arising from implementation costs.
  • Presumptions of conformity apply when certain standards are fulfilled. These requirements may change over time.
  • Comprehensive enforcement measures such as fines and blocking, but also legal remedies initiated by consumers or competitors (in some Member States) will be available.

Which products are affected?

The requirements of the EAA do not apply to all products, but only to an exhaustive list of products: 

  1. Specific hardware: The directive covers so-called hardware systems for universal computers, including operating systems. This includes classic desktop computers and end devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. 
  2. Devices for electronic communication: This includes products with interactive features that are used for electronic communication services, such as mobile phones, tablets, modems or routers.
  3. TV sticks, games consoles, etc: This also includes consumer devices with interactive features that are used to access audiovisual media services. 
  4. E-book readers: Portable reading devices should also be usable by people with reading impairments, including visual impairments, for example, by being equipped with voice output.
  5. Self-service terminals: These primarily include cash, ticket, information and check-in machines.

The requirements relate to the products themselves, such as the design of the user interfaces and functionalities, but they also go beyond this. For example, the EAA also specifies requirements for installation instructions and packaging.

The obligations can apply to the manufacturer, authorised representative, importer and distributor. This means that the requirements may affect companies outside the EU, where they are offering their products to consumers in the EU. In addition to the design obligations, a product must, for example, have a CE marking and conformity must be technically documented

Which services are affected?

Various services that form an important part of daily life are also covered. The services concerned include:

  1. Online commerce: The case group of "e-commerce services" covers all services that are provided with a view to concluding a consumer contract in e-commerce. For example, online sales of products, or services such as booking a taxi ride via an app. 
  2. Access services for streaming and television programmes: This includes services that enable access to audiovisual media services, including certain functions that have been implemented for accessibility. Electronic programme guides are also explicitly included.
  3. Telecommunications services: This includes normal voice telephony, but also internet telephony, along with other forms of digital communication such as email, chat or SMS. 
  4. Banking services for consumers: This includes consumer credit agreements, services related to financial instruments, payment services, payment accounts and e-money.
  5. E-books including software: e-books and e-book software are in scope services. 
  6. Passenger transport by air, bus, rail and ship: This applies to websites, apps, e-tickets and ticketing services. Travel information and interactive self-service terminals must also be made accessible, as well as information on the accessibility of the means of transport and the surrounding infrastructure (lifts, ramps, etc.).

For all the above services, all the related websites and apps must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

What are the exceptions?

Despite the comprehensive requirements, there are some exceptions to the scope of application that companies can invoke. Firstly, specific website and app content, such as map services or certain archives, are excluded. 

Further specific exceptions are:

  • Microenterprises (comprehensive for services, partial relief for products);
  • Where compliance would lead to a "fundamental alteration" to a product or service; and
  • Where compliance would impose a disproportionate economic burden (based on a cost/benefit test set out in the EAA).

Enforcement and sanctions

Market surveillance authorities in each Member State are to check that companies comply with the requirements. Consumers also have the opportunity to report violations to authorities or courts. Consumers can also be represented by an association or a qualified organisation. Violations can also lead to cease and desist letters in some jurisdictions.

Next Steps: Priorities for the next 12 months

There is only one year left until the national regulations for accessibility requirements become applicable on 28 June 2025. Companies should therefore start their EAA compliance projects now and take the following implementation steps:

Step 1: Check whether your products and services are in scope 

  • For all products and services offered, companies should check whether they fall within the scope of the EAA. As the legal text leaves some questions unanswered, there may be borderline cases where the question of applicability is not immediately obvious.
  • Possible exemptions should be considered.
  • Possible transitional periods should be determined.

Step 2: Map out applicable accessibility requirements 

  • The relevant obligations under the EAA should be determined and broken down based on the applicable products and services and the domestic legislation in the Member States where those products and services are offered. This may require review of elements including the specific technical design of the products and services and the information and labelling in relation to such products and services.
  • In the product area in particular, the company's own role should be identified, as the density of duties is affected by this. 
  • The question of whether existing contracts with consumers need to be adapted or products phased out or replaced is also relevant.

Step 3: Set up project(s) with internal and supply chain stakeholders

  • The implementation of the EAA requires the involvement of different business teams, such as programmers, user experience designers, possibly from marketing or customer service. The internal implementation should be organised across teams at an early stage.
  • In the product area, the interaction with other relevant players in the supply chain should be coordinated, for example between the manufacturer and importer.

Osborne Clarke Comment

Given the breadth of the EAA, companies should consider their implementation requirements under this new legislation as soon as possible for any new products or services being offered to consumers in the EU. Companies should also be aware that the geographical scope of this new law may be wider than just within the EU, possibly catching manufacturers and producers from outside the EU where they are looking to sell into the market. 

Finally, it bears repeating that this is a brand-new legal regime covering a wide range of sectors and varieties of product or service. Some of the key concepts and terminology in the EAA are complex or ambiguous and will need careful analysis to understand how they apply to your business. At this stage there is limited guidance at EU or Member State level. 

If you think you fall in scope of the new EAA, get in contact with your Osborne Clarke contact, or any of the contacts listed below who would be happy to help. We are assisting multiple clients in developing structured and risk-based approaches to compliance ahead of go-live on 28 June 2025.


* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

Connect with one of our experts

Interested in hearing more from Osborne Clarke?