Introduction - The European Accessibility Act
In a world that values diversity and inclusivity, it is crucial to ensure that everyone can fully participate in society, regardless of their abilities. The European Accessibility Act (Directive 2019/882) is a significant milestone in promoting inclusion for people with disabilities in Europe. Adopted by the European Union in 2019, this comprehensive legislation directly affects various sectors of the economy and companies across almost all industries.
Businesses with products and services covered by the EAA will be required to comply with its obligations by June 28, 2025. Those who don’t risk fines and legal exposure. Time is running out for businesses of all sizes to put operational plans in place to get and stay compliant with new laws. Ahead of the deadline, some countries are already enforcing certain EAA provisions.
The EAA sets forth standards to improve the accessibility of a wide range of products and services, including computers, smartphones, ATMs, e-books, e-commerce, transportation, banking services, and more. The provisions encompass areas such as digital accessibility, accessible products and services, and public procurement.
Yet beyond its legal obligations - there are many benefits of doing business in an accessible way. For example, it allows companies to tap into a larger market. There are approximately 80 million people with disabilities in the EU who have substantial purchasing power. It also gives companies a competitive advantage, enhances the user experience, and improves their social image and ESG ratings, as prioritizing accessibility aligns with ethical values and demonstrates social responsibility.
The GDPR moment for digital accessibility
In recent years, the GDPR has had a significant impact on data protection and privacy worldwide, influencing the adoption of similar legislation in other countries, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. The regulation has also increased awareness of privacy. Similarly, the EAA is set to raise awareness for the necessity of equal access for all across the Baltics, Europe, and the world.
According to Dr. Lionel Wolberger, a member of the World Wide Web Consortium and the Chief Compliance and Operating Officer of UserWay (TASE:UWAY), the digital accessibility AI company,
"Just like GDPR sent shockwaves through the business community, companies are prioritizing their digital accessibility strategies as the countdown to enforcement ticks down. It’s more than just compliance with the law - socially responsible companies should keep equal access and usability in focus. These legal and ESG facets make accessibility a highly nuanced and complex topic.”
The importance of accessibility is growing globally, with increasing recognition of the rights of people with disabilities. By proactively complying with the EAA, businesses are better prepared for potential future accessibility regulations and requirements. This positions them as forward-thinking and adaptable to evolving customer expectations and legal frameworks.
What the EAA means for Baltic countries
As part of the EU, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already transposed the EAA into their domestic legislation, which essentially means these countries complied with the EU directive by adapting and adopting the requirements and obligations outlined in the EAA into the legal frameworks of their individual countries to ensure effective implementation.
With respect to enforcement, the EAA requires each EU country to enact its own legislation. Non-compliance with the new accessibility laws can result in hefty penalties, fines, and other enforcement measures imposed on businesses by national authorities. For instance, a legal entity in Estonia could be punished with a fine of up to EUR 20,000, and in Lithuania, economic operators not in compliance could be fined from EUR 2,500 to EUR 15,000.
Although enforcement begins in June 2025, due to the ample scope of the EAA, on top of transposing the directive, Member States are also amending several existing codes that are being affected by the new legislation, such as the consumer code, transportation regulations, public procurement laws, accessibility and telecommunications regulations. This means that all sectors are affected by this new legislation.
By incorporating the provisions of the European Accessibility Act into their national legislation, these countries have taken significant steps towards promoting accessibility in various sectors. Through comprehensive accessibility standards, enforcement mechanisms, and support measures, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are fostering equal access to products, services, and digital content for people with disabilities, driving towards a more inclusive and equitable future.
Shira Grossman, Esq., is Head of Legal Affairs and Innovation at UserWay (TASE:UWAY), a full-service digital accessibility solutions provider.