In today’s digital era, when everything is online and tasks can be completed using smartphones, life is easy for most of us. However, those oft-neglected in this space are those suffering from visual impairments, physically challenged, or elderly persons – who are unable to utilize these resourceful services.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2 billion live with a disability, and of these, 20% suffer from functional disabilities in everyday life.

Considering this aspect, the philosophy of digital accessibility emerged, which is gaining a lot of significance. In particular, the European Union is strongly inclined towards turning this initiative into reality.

Read on to delve into digital accessibility, its importance, the European Accessibility Act, its implications on businesses and consumers, and more.

What is Digital Accessibility?

At its most basic, digital accessibility is the practice of fostering inclusivity by eliminating any barriers for people with physical or situational disabilities and enabling them to interact with websites, web apps, digital products, and digital tools or technologies in an equally meaningful manner.

Why is it important?

With regard to digital accessibility, disabilities include, for example, blindness, low vision, color blindness, or other visual impairments. Research suggests that among 253 people with visual impairment globally, nearly 36 million are blind, and 217 million suffer from moderate to severe visual impairment (MSVI).

In today’s modern times, from booking tickets to operating ATMs, everything is online. While this is a benefit for many, there are those specially-abled who are unable to leverage them.

Tools such as Braille devices, screen readers, and screen magnification software aid people with visual impairment. Nevertheless, there are challenges to address, including an array of digital products that don’t work with screen reader software, mobile apps that don’t allow zoom, charts or graphs differentiated by color alone, and more.

These apps and tools adversely impact people with disabilities. It is with this objective that the idea of digital accessibility emerged and is gaining momentum. The rationale behind the concept is to ensure inclusivity and diversity, letting everyone access and use digital content or platforms.

What is the EU Regulation on Digital Accessibility?

In accordance with ensuring digital accessibility for everyone, the European Commission has introduced a major initiative, the European Accessibility Act (EAA), which aims to address the accessibility challenge and equip specially-abled people to use digital products and services.

While it is scheduled for implementation in June 2025, it emphasizes that digital products are accessible across all businesses and organizations at all levels. Let’s delve into what the EAA entails.

The European Accessibility Act is the initiative of the EU and member states in conjunction with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While the primary objective of the act is to empower and equip physically disabled persons to participate effectively in society, it would also benefit older people. Persons who suffer temporary impairment will also gain access to e-books, websites, online platforms, ticket booking, banking services, and more.

An example is to make ATMs with visual and audio signals, which would foster inclusivity, making the experiences of the specially-abled and elderly users more friendly.

Scope of the European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act includes a comprehensive scope, covering several segments such as:

Digital Accessibility: This is the main goal of the European Accessibility Act, which prioritizes the practice of making digital products accessible to visually impaired and older people. It’s mainly focused on the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) in enabling people to access digital content.

Electronic Communication: With most services working on electronic media like smartphones and mobiles, the Act aims to make them accessible to the specially-abled as well.

Assistive Technologies: The EAA focuses on the application of assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifying tools, and other software, enhancing their compatibility.

Banking Services: Financial inclusion is important for everyone. With ATMs, loans, and other services going digital, the EA Act emphasizes enabling everyone to use them effectively.

Audiovisual Media: The EAA also includes improving the compatibility of physically challenged individuals with audiovisual media such as Television and other devices by incorporating features like audio descriptions and such.

How Does the EU’s Law on Digital Accessibility Impact Businesses and Consumers?

As discussed in the earlier sections, the EU’s accessibility law focuses on extending access to digital products and platforms by making them usable for the specially-abled and elderly classes as well. Let’s now understand the impact of the EU’s EAA on businesses and consumers.

According to the European Commission, the European Accessibility Act “aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, by removing barriers created by the divergent rules in the Member States.”

The law functionally intends to expand the accessibility of everything digital, including but not limited to websites, mobile apps, e-books, and banking services, to everyone, regardless of their physical disability. This would benefit even older people and those with situational disabilities to access digital tools and platforms conveniently.

That said, before the EAA, the various member countries in the European Union had different accessibility rules and standards for various products and services. This means what is permitted in one member country may be banned in another. This was causing a lot of trouble for the consumers who, if they traveled across the nations, had to adhere to different regulations. Besides, it resulted in their facing problems with regard to the selection of products and services, higher prices overall, and more.

According to the EU’s accessibility act, there are common accessibility rules for all private companies that will ensure compliance in selling the products and services across all the member nations of the EU.

Benefits to Businesses/Companies

Easier cross-border trading: The common regulation will ensure better compliance, making cross-border transactions hassle-free and convenient. All member nations would adhere to the same rules, and selling products would not be treated differently across countries in the EU.

Reduction in cost: The uniform regulation will ensure that the products and services have the same prices across states. In addition, if businesses have to ship products or raw materials to other states, it would not attract any extra duty.

Better market opportunities: Businesses can find greater market opportunities for their products and services due to better accessibility.

Benefits for Consumers (People with Disabilities /Older Persons)

Buy products at more affordable prices: Due to the EAA, the physically challenged and older people can purchase products and services at relatively competitive prices.

Lesser barriers in education, transport, etc.: When the specially-abled and older adults are able to access digital services equivalently, they can leverage the opportunities in education or other fields like anyone else. Besides, transport services like e-ticket booking or such will also become accessible to them.

Increase in the number of jobs: Quite often, the physically challenged or older people are deprived of good job opportunities mainly due to their inability to use digital platforms or software. Implementing the EAA will eliminate such barriers, thereby increasing the number of suitable jobs for these people.

Wrapping Up

Digital accessibility is not a nice-to-have but a must for everyone. As a result, the European Commission’s EAA, which prioritizes the extensibility of access to digital technologies for the physically challenged, visually impaired, or older people, holds vast potential.

With the act’s implementation scheduled for June 2025, EU citizens are optimistic about a bright future for everyone. Society will find its true meaning only when this dream comes true.