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European Accessibility Act Compliance Requirements: The Next GDPR

David Gibson

Remember 4 years ago when the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) forced US companies to scramble to comply with the new security and privacy standards, or face hefty fines and risk of being blocked in the EU? 

Well, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) is setting the stage for a similar impact for any company with websites and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessible by EU consumers.

The act takes effect on June 25, 2025 so there is time to prepare, but no time to waste. 

This post focuses primarily on what the EAA compliance standards requirements are, and what US companies with websites, SaaS products, and mobile apps serving EU citizens must quickly do in the next year to meet EAA compliance. And what not to do - the European Commission has explicitly stated that the use of accessibility overlay widgets will not provide compliance. So band-aid widgets must be abandoned… and should be regardless.

What is the European Accessibility Act?

The EAA is designed to ensure the accessibility of products and services for people with disabilities across the European Union. Its broad scope encompasses various digital products and services, including websites, mobile applications, and electronic devices, aiming to harmonize accessibility requirements across EU member states. The act's primary goal is to create a more inclusive digital environment, promoting the independence, social integration, and active participation of individuals with disabilities in society. 

While I’ll go into greater detail into the standards and requirements for EAA compliance, the short is that the very same Web Accessibility Compliance Standards (WCAG) commonly used in the US and internationally are also used as the gauge for EAA compliance.

And of course the benefits of the EAA extend beyond compliance, offering businesses a consistent common standard for accessibility compliance as well as the opportunity to enhance the usability, performance and market reach for their products and services.

Does the EAA Apply to US Companies?

Yes, the EAA will apply to US companies and any company operating in any country with websites and ICT that a EU citizen can access. So just to be crystal clear, any US business that provides goods or services accessible to EU consumers must comply with the EAA. Therefore, the EAA would apply to:

  • US hospitality destinations such as a ski resort or hotel offering online booking to European visitors.
  • Ecommerce companies that sell products to EU citizens. 
  • SaaS companies with web-based software used by EU customers.
  • Mobile app providers with applications available in the EU market.

Are There Any Exceptions for EAA Compliance?

The EAA makes provisions for exceptions, notably for microbusinesses—defined as companies with fewer than 10 employees and an annual revenue under 2 million euros. However, all businesses are encouraged to strive for accessibility to ensure their services are inclusive and accessible to all users.

What Are the Standards & Requirements for EAA & EN 301 549 Compliance?

The core of EAA compliance lies in the EN 301 549 standard, which aligns with WCAG 2.1 Levels A and AA. This alignment ensures that meeting WCAG 2.1 A and AA standards effectively ensures compliance with EN 301 549 and, by extension, the EAA. For US companies, this means that if their websites and digital products meet WCAG 2.1 A and AA criteria, they are also in compliance with EN 301 549 and EAA requirements, as well as current federal and state laws in the US. Here is a guide to WCAG

Will an Accessibility Overlay Widget Make My Website EAA Compliant?

No. Despite the incorrect claims of overlay widget providers who suggest their technology is capable of making website WCAG compliant, the EU Commission has preemptively clarified that such widgets do not provide compliance. Here they state “Claims that a website can be made fully compliant without manual intervention are not realistic, since no automated tool can cover all the WCAG 2.1 level A and AA criteria” 

They actually go further and state “In addition, some overlay tools have been reported to interfere with the assistive technologies used by people with disabilities. In other words, overlay tools may make a website less accessible for some users.”

Additionally the European Disability Forum and International Association of Accessibility Professionals issued a joint statement in 2023 on accessibility overlays, concluding that “We therefore strongly advise public and private sector buyers of technology to actively engage with digital accessibility experts, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to understand user needs and how these can be met.”

Who Will Enforce EAA?

The enforcement of the EAA will vary across EU member states, with each country establishing its own regulatory framework or designating existing agencies to oversee compliance. This decentralized approach mirrors the enforcement structure of the GDPR, emphasizing the role of national authorities in ensuring adherence to the act.

What Are the Penalties for Not Complying with EAA?

Unfortunately we don’t yet know. This will fall on Member States that must ensure compliance checks, review complaints, ensure corrective actions by companies, and provide a mechanism for individuals to file complaints. They will determine legal actions and penalties, but they are expected to be significant, potentially mirroring the GDPR framework for fines. 

Let’s therefore look at what GDPR penalties have looked like.

According to Enforcement Tracker, as of February 2024, since its implementation, 2005 GDPR fines have been issued totaling just under  €4.5 billion, with individual fines reaching as high as €1.2 billion for Meta (Facebook). 

In case you’re assuming only large companies have been hit, Marketing Solutions LLC, a sub $5M US company, was fined €50,000 for sending marketing emails without obtaining proper consent.

How to Comply with EAA?

Compliance with the EAA involves a multi-faceted approach, including conducting thorough accessibility audits by experienced professionals, implementing remediation strategies based on expert guidance, and demonstrating WCAG 2.1 AA compliance as part of EN 301 549 requirements. Ongoing monitoring and updates are crucial to ensure continued adherence to evolving standards and regulations.

WCAG Auditing
When auditing, it’s important to know that even the very best software can only detect about 30% of WCAG issues. To fill that gap, you must use qualified web accessibility consultants (such as us) to deliver a proper WCAG audit of a website, SaaS, or mobile app. 

Remediation is best performed by the existing team rather than outsourcing. It's important that they learn from the remediation process to avoid duplicating issues in the future. Any reputable consulting group that performed the audit should also provide remediation guidance through the process, and then run a fina verification audit to ensure all items are addressed.

WCAG Compliance Monitoring
After the site is fully remediated and verified, the types of issues that crop up are introduced by adding new products, blog posts and general content updates. Basic site monitoring software will suffice until the templates or components that affect the design and user experience are changed.

Tip: Many website WCAG auditing and compliance providers will push you into a subscription model, and put an overstated value on on-going monitoring. In the end, you will pay much more with this model. You should only need a full human audit once a year or when the UI changes. Otherwise a $49/mo monitoring tool will suffice to capture the basic types of issues that are introduced using the CMS.

How To Demonstrate EAA & EN301549 Compliance

Companies can take two paths to show they comply with the EAA. After first conducting an audit by a third party web accessibility consulting firm that goes beyond the use of limited automated testing software and conducts manual testing that includes screen readers and other assistive technologies, they do one or both of the following:

  1. Publish an Accessibility Statement which states the steps taken to acheive conformity, and how that conformity has been determined. For that to have legitimacy, it should incicate that manual testing with assistive technologies was conducted by credentialed accessibility experts.

  2. Provide a VPAT/ACR which is a standardized self-reporting tool for digital accessibility compliance. More about VPATs and ACRs

Benefits: Accessibility is Good Business

Yes, the legal risks to non-compliance are as clear as day. The added pressure from EAA and the need to also scrap the use of accessibility overlay widgets, which never worked in the first place, makes now the best time to invest in accessibility. But avoiding legal risk and brand tarnish miss the main point. Accessibility is good business.

DEI - Walking the walk
Prioritizing accessibility reflects your organization's dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Current and potential employees like that. Customers like that.

An accessible website enhances the experience for all visitors making the site easier to navigate and engage with. Bottom line, better usability leads to more conversions.  

Expanded Markets
By making your services accessible to the 61 million Americans with disabilities and the 71 million Baby Boomers, who wield about $548 billion in spending power, you unlock new market segments ripe with opportunity.

Websites that adhere to ADA guidelines often see SEO benefits through better-structured headings, alt text, and clear markup, improving site visibility and expanding your audience base. Organic search traffic is the highest quality traffic you can get.

Just as SEO is pivotal, the emergence of AI-driven platforms introduces Artificial Intelligence Optimization (AIO). WCAG compliance ensures that these new technologies can effectively interact with your content, boosting your digital marketing efforts.


Wrap Up

Over the years I’ve seen more and more companies coming to us for auditing and consulting because they see the benefits beyond just the risks. First, good accessibility improves SEO and AIO bringing more visitors to websites. And accessibility is the pinnacle of usability, and good usability increases engagement and conversions. 

But, if the carrot side isn’t doing the trick, then here comes the stick. 

EAA combined with existing US federal laws plus increasing state laws in California and New York in particular, establishes substantial risk to companies of any size in any state… or country now. 

Please get in touch with us. We can work with a broad range of budgets and goals to greatly assist your company with compliance and true accessibility.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and the content of this blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you require legal assistance, please consult with a qualified attorney who can provide advice tailored to your specific circumstances.