Inclusive digital products are important, but existing products are not automatically made accessible. Practice shows that organisations only start focusing on digital accessibility when they are obliged to do so. A crying shame, especially when you consider that there are over 4 million people with disabilities in the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, digital accessibility is currently only compulsory for government and semi-government organisations. However, the legislation is going to change in the near future, resulting in the fact that (smaller) companies will also be subject to the obligation. In this article, you can read more about the future digital accessibility obligation, caused by the European Accessibility Act.
What is the European Accessibility Act?
The Netherlands may have 4 million people with disabilities, but the number for Europe is 135 million. This number is expected to grow as the population ages. In order to make online products and services accessible to all Europeans, the European Accessibility Act has been drawn up. The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is a pan-European regulation on digital accessibility.
The EAA consists of general accessibility laws that apply to all Member States of the European Union. The goal of this international act is to unify legislation on digital accessibility throughout the European Union.
The goal of the European Accessibility Act
For people with disabilities, the EAA means that they can more easily use products and services from all over the European Union. In addition, areas such as the (international) labour market, education and transport should also benefit from this initiative. So people with disabilities should have the same opportunities as people without disabilities throughout the European Union.
The removal of digital barriers for people with disabilities should, according to the EU, not only help those people, but also EU companies. According to the EU, more standardisation in the field of digital communication will make it easier to conduct international trade. It is also important that from 2025 more Europeans have access to digital services and products. This has two advantages. Firstly, it will increase the overall labour market, because more people will be able to fill vacancies. Secondly, the group of consumers who can buy digital products and services will also grow, because more people will be able to use the services. According to the European Union, this is therefore a win-win situation.
The EAA was adopted by the member states of the European Union in June 2019. For the next step, in June 2022, all member states must have translated the EAA and added it into their own national legislation. From July 2025, the European Accessibility Act will actually come into force.
What is covered by the European Accessibility Act?
The intended benefit is clear, but how does the European Union intend to achieve it? A list of products and services has been compiled that, according to the EU, are of great importance to people with disabilities. Products and services with widely varying accessibility requirements within the EU have also been added to the list. Below is a list of the products and services affected by the European Accessibility Act:
- Computers and operating software
- ATMs, ticket machines and check-in machines
- TV equipment related to digital television services
- Telecommunication services, such as the apps and websites of your provider
- Audiovisual media services, such as Netflix, Videoland and Spotify
- Online and offline services related to transport, such as ticket machines, apps and websites
- All financial services, such as online banking
All products and services from the above list should be fully usable by all Europeans, including people with disabilities. No distinction is made between products produced inside and outside the EU. All products sold here must comply with this requirement.
With or without retroactive effect
The legislation of the European Accessibility Act does not retroactively address online products such as web shops. The EAA states that all products published from June 2025 onwards must comply with the accessibility guidelines. For web shops, this does not mean that all web shops will have to comply, but only those that are published from 2025 onwards. But what is the difference between a completely new webshop and an update to an existing webshop? There is currently still too much uncertainty about this question. Fortunately, the European Union still has three years to work out this definition.
How are the requirements defined?
The European Accessibility Act will be based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG can therefore be used as a checklist to assess the digital accessibility of a website or app.
Enforcement of the European Accessibility Act
Monitoring the extent to which companies comply with the EAA is done by the Member States themselves. The Dutch government is therefore responsible for the digital accessibility of businesses in the Netherlands. Companies that do not comply with the EAA can be fined by the Dutch government from July 2025 onwards. The content of the fine is not yet known.
The Dutch government is already responsible for monitoring the accessibility of municipalities and other government institutions. Want to read more about this supervision?