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Digital product design in line with the European Accessibility Act

Digital product design in line with the European Accessibility Act

by Philipp Brunner


European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act aims to standardize rules for accessible products and services on the European market.

Barriers resulting from different legislation in the member states are to be removed in order to give people and companies equal market opportunities for accessible products and services.

The overarching goal: to promote accessible digital products and services in Europe and beyond and to make life easier for people with special needs.

“Universal design” – an important step towards full and equal participation in society

The main idea behind accessible design can be summarized with the phrase “design for all”: Accessible digital products and services can be used by all people, regardless of their abilities and limitations. When we talk about accessibility, we first think of people with physical and/or mental disabilities. However, accessible products and services can actually make life easier for a much larger group of people.

“44.6 million – one in six –persons aged between 16 and 64 report that they have a long standing health problem or disability. People with disabilities represent at least 16% of the overall EU working age population.”

(Key figures on ‘active inclusion’ of people with disabilities in the EU)

Every person can be affected by restrictions under different circumstances:
  • A person with heavy luggage is restricted in their freedom of movement and benefits from barrier-free access to buildings.
  • A person traveling on public transport can watch and understand videos with subtitles on their smartphone without headphones and without disturbing other passengers.
  • A person with impaired vision who has forgotten their glasses at home can still use a web application that uses sufficiently large font with high color contrast.
  • Anyone in a hurry benefits from digital services that are concise, easy to read and user-friendly.

However, the main focus in the provision of accessible products and services is clearly on “persons with disabilities, including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (quoted from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).

What is the „European Accessibility Act“?

The “European Accessibility Act” (EAA) is a legislative measure implemented by the European Union to improve the accessibility of products and services for people with disabilities. It was published by the European Parliament and Council in 2019 and came into force in 2022.

The “European Accessibility Act” aims to improve accessibility for people with disabilities in important areas of everyday life, such as communication technologies, public transport, banking services and e-commerce.

The aim is to harmonize accessibility requirements in the EU member states and ensure equal access to goods, services and digital products for people with disabilities in these areas:

  • Computers, smartphones and corresponding operating systems
  • ATMs and other digital self-service terminals (tickets, check-in, etc.)
  • Television / Digital television services
  • E-readers and e-books
  • Telephone services
  • Audiovisual media
  • Websites
  • Ticket sales
  • Banking and financial services
  • E-Commerce

Accessibility requirements have been mandatory for state and publicly funded digital services for several years now. The aim of the “European Accessibility Act” is to make accessibility mandatory for the majority of digital products and services outside the public sector.

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Which accessibility requirements must be met?

The EU defines the harmonized European standard EN 301 549 “Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services” in the regulations of the “European Accessibility Act”. It refers to the better-known WCAG 2.1 guideline, an internationally recognized collection of accessibility criteria.
The main principles of the WCAG 2.1 guideline therefore formulate the basic requirements that must be met in order to comply with the “European Accessibility Act”. A digital product that is as accessible as possible must be perceptible, operable, understandable and robust:
  • Information must be presented in such a way that users can easily perceive it.
  • More than one sensory channel must be addressed to make information perceptible
  • Text alternatives must be offered for non-text-based content.
  • Subtitles and transcripts must be provided for time-based media (audio and video content).
  • Content should be flexible and be able to be presented in different ways without losing information content
  • Content should be clearly distinguishable from backgrounds through sufficient color contrast and font size.
  • Consistent and easy-to-use navigation options are required.
  • Operation with the keyboard must be possible.
  • The user interface must support as many alternative input and control options as possible.
  • Currently focused or active elements must be recognizable as such, regardless of the input device used.
  • Users must have sufficient time to read and understand content and complete their tasks .
  • Fast animations and high-frequency movement sequences should be avoided, as they could lead to seizures and physical reactions in certain people.
  • Keep language as simple as possible and avoid distractions and confusing messages to ensure comprehensibility.
  • Consistent layout and interaction design to ensure a predictable user experience.
  • A digital product should be as self-explanatory as possible.
  • Content and technology must be robust enough to ensure broad compatibility with a wide range of devices .
  • Future-proofing is to be ensured through the use of open technologies and frameworks.
The “European Accessibility Act” promotes a change in thinking and emphasizes the importance of proactive and inclusive design practices. This change requires a deep understanding of the diverse user needs, including those of people with physical, sensory and cognitive impairments.

Accessibility through user-centered design

A user-centered design approach can ensure the integration of universal accessibility:
  • User Research: The integration of methods to understand users of a digital product are crucial to identify their needs – especially those of people with special needs. User research at the beginning and during the implementation of a project is the basis for user-centered design
  • Integration und Priorisierung von Barrierefreiheit: The guidelines of the “European Accessibility Act” and the associated standards must become a fundamental part of the design strategy for every project. Accessibility must be prioritized at an organizational level
  • Accessibility User Testing: Only regular user tests with users from the respective target groups with special needs enable us to see our design through the eyes of those affected and to check the level of accessibility. Problems can thus be identified and solved as early as possible in the project.

The Time to Act is Now!

The EU has instructed its member states to transpose the European Accessibility Act into national law by June 28, 2022.
The actual legal enforcement of the requirements will begin on June 28, 2025.

Even if there is still time for implementation from today’s perspective, prompt preparation for the new digital accessibility requirements is recommended, as this can be a time-consuming task, especially for more complex products.
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