Within Scott Logic is the accessibility and ethical software working group, a modest team eager to explore the nuanced and crucial but often overlooked domain of software accessibility. Some time ago we caught wind of the European Accessibility Act (EAA), a new set of rules which will be enforced from June 2025. We quickly realised it was a rather compelling reason to get more folk in the company interested and clued-up on accessibility. But what exactly does the act cover, what does it mean for software companies and for Scott Logic which builds software for other companies? What things must be done before the looming 2025 deadline?

Eager to gain a fuller understanding of the act I took a dive into the web, taking care to dodge bias from accessibility product marketing teams, scouring various articles and having a go at interpreting dense legal text. What follows is my best summary of what I've found!

Note: I am just a humble developer, and have had no legal training. This article is not legal advice. I may well even get some things wrong.

My research was conducted in the interest of Scott Logic, and is therefore concerned with services rather than products (usually physical goods). If you are interested in how the act affects products, I suggest you take a look at a different article. If you are interested in services, then read on…

In Short

  • The EAA defines a set of accessibility requirements for specified products and services put on the EU market from 2025.

    we will get into those requirements and specified products and services later, but they pretty much boil down to WCAG. Note that even if a company does not operate in the EU, they must still comply in order to sell to the EU.

  • Specified products and services must provide accessibility information.

    This amounts to having an accessibility statement or section in the terms and conditions. Companies must know how their product/service is meeting requirements, or where they are falling down (if it would cost too much to fix - see scope).

  • Companies must conduct audits to ensure continued compliance.

    Products/services must remain accessible as they change over time. Crucially, it makes it impossible for accessibility to be overlooked, since you must prove at regular intervals how accessible you are. Accountability is a powerful thing!

The Requirements

The thing about the requirements [1 - annex I] is that some of it is up to interpretation. For example:

“[make] websites, including the related online applications, and mobile device-based services, including mobile applications, accessible in a consistent and adequate way by making them perceivable, operable, understandable and robust”
[1 - Annex I, section 3(c)]

This is written to be broadly applicable. So how am I, as a developer, meant to apply my technical knowledge to adhere to that?

Luckily for us, the act comes with a harmonised technical standard. A technical standard is a much more focussed, technology based, low-level set of rules to follow. WCAG, which I hope you have heard of, is also such a standard. Harmonised means that following the standard guarantees your service to be in line with the act.

The particular standard that comes with the EAA is given the catchy name: EN 301 549 version 4.1.1 [2]. Complying with this standard guarantees that you are complying with the act. So, what's included in EN 301 549 version 4.1.1? Well… We don't know. They are aiming to publish it in 2025, which is unfortunate given that the act is to be enforced from June 2025! However, looking at previous versions of EN 301 549, we can anticipate that it will look extremely similar to WCAG (2.2 AA) and WCAG2ICT which extends those rules for the web to apply more broadly to include non-web applications [3].

The Scope

The act defines a list of services that it covers:

  • Consumer banking
  • E-commerce
  • Audiovisual services (e.g. Netflix)
  • Websites and apps for air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport
  • E-books
  • Communications platforms

Is that all? Yes - indeed the scope is not comprehensive, but it covers many of the crucial services that people need.

When it comes to products, we cover general purpose computer hardware like computers, smartphones and their operating systems, as well as e-readers and many self-service terminals, like ATMs and ticket machines.

What's Not in Scope?

  • Internal technologies not on the market.

    The EAA does not apply to software that is only used by employees within a company. There are already other EU [Directive - 2000/78] and UK [Equality act 2010] laws which cover equal access to the workplace, which is why this directive does not duplicate those laws.

  • Products and services which would require a “fundamental alteration” in order to meet the requirements [1 - article 14].

    I couldn't find any specific criteria for what qualifies as a “fundamental alteration". However companies will have to write a convincing case for this exemption and then it is up to the authorities to decide if they qualify.

  • Products and services where it would impose a disproportionate burden (financially) to make them accessible[1 - article 14].

    If the changes needed to comply with the act (taking into account changes to the product, training etc) will cost too much compared with the cost of providing the service then that product / service is exempt.

  • Microenterprises [1 - article 4].

    Meaning enterprises with fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover or balance sheet not exceeding €2 million. However these make up over 90% of the EU's non-financial business sector, contributing to a third of the value.

  • Healthcare and housing services, household products, tourism.

    Are a few of the essential services not in the specified list that all people should have equal access to.

What happens if I don't comply with the act?

First off, the act is an EU directive, which means that it is up to individual member states to come up with and enforce laws. The act provides standards that companies selling to these companies must meet, but individual countries may choose to impose even stricter laws than the act sets out.

Furthermore the individual states can choose how punishment is dealt to those not following the laws they've put into place. The act only asserts that penalties for non-compliance must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” [1 - article 30. 2.].

So in effect the consequences of not complying depend on which country your business sells to.

My Takeaway

So to answer the questions I set out at the start:

  • What does the act cover?

    In essence, the public sector services named the scope must conform to WCAG 2.2 AA (or a standard which will look very similar), provide accessibility information about the service and conduct audits to ensure compliance over time.

  • What does it mean for software companies?

    If you come under the scope, then you'd better carefully check whether your service is accessible! Study up on WCAG 2.2 AA, or speak to an accessibility specialist. If you haven't planned ahead for accessibility, retroactively adding accessibility features can often take a long time, so start sooner rather than later!

    Developers will need to have a higher base level of accessibility skills to be able to maintain software while staying accessible. Companies creating a new service should consider accessibility from the start and at all stages from design to deployment. From personal experience, it is much easier to build it in from the start than to fix things later.

  • What does it mean for Scott Logic?

    At Scott Logic the requirements we need to adhere to depend on our client. For public service organisations, of course Scott Logic builds accessible software. For internal systems we build for businesses, we always strive to make them as user friendly as possible. Internally, we will continue to increase skills and awareness amongst our consultants so that we are ready to build software that is as accessible as possible.

I went into this research with the naive expectation that would fix all the accessibility problems with the internet in one fell swoop. It's no wonder that my first feeling when I concluded the research was disappointment. While it seems there will be a large impact for products, not all crucial services will be required to be accessible. I had also hoped that the directive would have an impact for services used internally within companies by employees. While that's not the case, I'm hopeful that the increased awareness of accessibility within the tech community will have positive knock-on effects on those areas as well.

A few colleagues also pointed out the loopholes that companies might use to evade the costs implementing accessibility. They pointed out that certain member states could be less diligent in tracking and enforcing compliance with the law. A cunning company could take a gamble and sell their service in one of these more lax states, avoiding stricter enforcement while still reaping the benefits of the EU free market. They also noted that many companies will probably make the case for the disproportionate burden exemption and it is still unclear how lenient or strict these will be applied is yet to be seen.

My outlook brightened when a more optimistic colleague pointed out that actually this is the first EU accessibility directive to apply standards to public sector technologies. We've effectively gone from zero to this which is a great step in the right direction, and all progress comes one step at a time.

"when it comes to accessibility right now, the bar is on the floor. The EAA just picks it up."

She also reasoned that legislation will influence culture around accessibility. Now that the law is enforcing a certain standard of accessibility, overall knowledge and awareness will increase, companies (even those not directly affected by the act) will brag about how accessible they are, and individuals will feel empowered to complain and take action when they encounter inaccessible services.

Historically accessibility has been viewed as an afterthought, and often a burden. The EAA marks a shift where accessibility is a necessity and sets a new expectation from consumers for companies providing any service. Let's hope we keep taking steps toward an accessible web for all!

References and Further Reading

Here are the sources I referenced in the article, including the official text of the EAA.

  1. The full original text of the act
  2. ETSI: EN 301 549 V3 the harmonized European Standard for ICT Accessibility
  3. TPGi talk: What is the European Accessibility Act (EAA)? Countdown to EAA 2025 (YouTube, 1hr)

I encourage you to read information from other sources too. Other posts online will provide a different perspective! These ones I found particularly informative:

  • EDF: Toolkit for transposition - Written by the European Disability Forum, this document provides guidance to member states writing laws to implement the act. It explains much of the act in detail but in language that is easier to understand. It also specifies areas where the act could be helping disabled people more.

  • TPGi talk: What is the European Accessibility Act (EAA)? Countdown to EAA 2025 (YouTube, 1hr) - This is a balanced and detailed summary of the act given by a member of the W3C guidelines working group.

  • Craig Abbot Blog - A personal blog written by an accessibility specialist. Gives an optimistic view of the act and lots of reasons why businesses should get a move on and become more accessible