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New accessibility requirements await in 2025

By the end of June 2025, new EU-wide accessibility requirements will come into full force. This will bring numerous new organizations into the scope – nearly every organization offering a digital service! The time to make the European digital society more accessible is here.

Five years have passed since the EU began the motion that generates national laws. Right now is the moment for every company to look in the mirror and prepare to be more accessible in 2025. Learn what is expected of your organization, and why you should take action today.

How does the law change in 2025?

In 2025, many new companies will enter the area of accessibility requirements. In Finland, the law 306/2019 was amended in 2023 to include a greater number of organizations. 

The new law names all personal transportation, e-commerce, and audiobook services to be included. In 2020 and 2021,  public sector services, financial services, and many of society’s key functions, such as utilities, were already included in the scope.   

The law excludes microservices from accessibility requirements. These are defined as companies with an annual turnover of under 2 million euros.

The detailed requirements remain the same as they were when the EU directive was announced in 2018, only the number of organizations they apply to increases.

What does the law require?

The law requires that all digital services, web pages, mobile applications, smartwatch applications, stand-alone kiosks, ATMs, and so forth pass the requirements set in the EN standard.

Currently, the EU directive 2016/2102 refers to the EN 301 549. This means that websites should observe the accessibility requirements of WCAG 2.1, level AA.  Additionally, websites must include:

  1. An accessibility statement concerning known issues and planned improvements.
  2. A feedback channel that responds within 14 days of receiving feedback.

In practice, websites can have accessibility issues, but at minimum, you must declare them in a statement. Documenting instead of fixing accessibility issues is not the aim of the law, however.

What consequences does non-compliance have?

The EU accessibility initiative aims to make society more inclusive. Improving accessibility is thus a moral imperative for all organizations concerned about societal responsibility. 

Accessibility is enforced separately in every EU country. Failing to comply with the requirements can lead to a fine, which is proportional to the organization’s turnover. However, to date, there are no clear guidelines or publicly disclosed examples. From the trenches, we have become aware of notable conditional fines levied after the first wave of inspections in Finland.   

How are other companies managing accessibility challenges?

Different types of studies during the past five years have shown that much of the internet is not accessible. According to the widest-reaching study of one million website front pages by WebAim, only 4% of webpages had no issues that automated analysis could detect.

In Finland, the first public official accessibility surveillance report found none of the included 20 websites and four mobile apps were accessible.  Similarly, the Qvik study from 2020 involving fifteen popular Finnish apps discovered no accessible apps at all. 

This indicates two things. First of all, the old software development methods have not been tuned to produce accessible digital services by default. Second, despite the law, companies have not made a big effort to change the situation. This leaves plenty of opportunity to pioneer and innovate with accessible services.  

Why invest in accessible services?

For commercial operators, accessibility can bring additional revenue and save money. You can generate revenue by enabling underserved segments to spend on digital services, by finding new clientele, and by ensuring their smooth transactions. Also, people who don’t have special needs most of the time often benefit a lot from improved accessibility that improves usability for all. Innovative, accessible solutions can attract unexpected new customers from a far.

Cost savings occur in many ways. One of these is the increasing self-service rates across the company, as customers don’t have to contact customer support to complete their transactions or just to complain about their bad experiences. Research by Nucleus has revealed multiple ways poor accessibility increases traditional customer support load. Compliance with the law also mitigates legal risk, both in terms of governmental oversight and group litigation. The latter has been getting increasing attention, especially in the US, in recent years, where a group of law firms specializing in “Digital ADA lawsuits” has emerged.

What should you do next?

Your next step towards better accessibility depends on the stage in the lifecycle of a digital service yours is currently at.  

If you are concerned about your existing services, the path forward is to go through the portfolio of digital services provided and examine the accessibility of each service in turn. If you don’t know the level of accessibility of each service, the first step is to conduct an accessibility audit to find out how accessible the service is. Based on the findings, you should steer the development towards a path that will pave the way for an improved situation in 2025.

If you are building a new service, it’s best to invest in designing and developing accessible-by-default digital systems. Have accessibility specialists or advocates in your team to ensure constant quality assurance for accessibility aspects. Train your teams, developers and designers alike, to understand the basic facts and motivations of accessibility so they can learn more on the fly and become used to creating accessible solutions. 

The time goes by quickly, especially when dealing with legacy systems. Get a head start for 2024, and make sure your roadmap or portfolio of strategic initiatives mentions accessibility – so you won’t be late to the game next year!   

Did you enjoy this article? Take a look at more accessibility-related reads on our blog.