By Heli Jeskanen
- 6 minute read
Can you remember how many times you’ve transitioned between the digital and physical worlds today?
A quick glance at your phone’s newsfeed between tasks. The static buzz of your computer’s speakers as you dial into an online meeting.
Modern digital products and services act as bridges between the physical and digital worlds. A pressed button on a phone’s screen sends a burst of data across the world and a package to our doorstep. Or pays the internet bill that enables us to do so in the first place.
The digital world has become an integral way of understanding and controlling our lives. And everyone, whether fully able or anyhow impaired, should be able to navigate their life independently. That’s why the recently drafted European Accessibility Act (EAA) is coming into force in 2025: to enable people with disabilities to easily access digital products and services.
Keep reading for a look into what the EAA entails, how digital accessibility will benefit your business, and how to best design accessible digital products and services.
The European Accessibility Act at a glance
The European Accessibility Act is an EU-level directive that aims to allow people with disabilities to easily access the digital world – while making key services more accessible for everyone. It expands the current accessibility legislation to essential private and public digital services and products.
Businesses that fall under the EAA’s legislation must be compliant by June 28th, 2025. This is a hard deadline, so ensure your teams have access to all the right skills well before then.
The EAA concerns products and services that bridge the digital and physical worlds, such as websites, online stores, and transport services. It unifies the design requirements for these products and services across the EU, including requirements such as:
- All content should be operable by keyboard
- All services should be easy to use and understand
- All services should have consistent navigation
- All services should be accessible via assistive technologies, e.g. voice control and screen readers
In summation, the European Accessibility Act aims to make digital products and services as easily accessible to as many people as possible.
Five reasons why your business should care about digital accessibility
Digital accessibility benefits everyone. And ‘everyone’ includes businesses, too. Let’s take a look at how embracing digital accessibility will benefit your business.
1. Create digital services and products that better serve all customers
Accessible design will improve your digital product’s or service’s usability for just about everyone. Proper color contrasts, for example, allow users a better chance of seeing your content in bright sunlight.
As such, accessible digital design creates happier customers, lower defection rates, and improves your business’ brand.
2. Expand your target audience
Not only can you better serve your current audience, accessible digital design also allows you to reach entirely new audiences.
An estimated 150 million Europeans have some form of disability. Enabling this audience to use your product despite their disability will benefit both them and your company. After all, if an online store’s checkout button is not screen reader or keyboard accessible, customers who rely on them will simply take their business elsewhere.
3. Accessible code improves your SEO and is easier to work with
Clear, well-structured code is more easily readable by search engines, resulting in higher quality SEO. Clear code is also simpler to work with, being easier to debug and maintain. Semantic, machine-readable markup further ensures handoffs between your developers go smoothly.
4. Be on the right side of the law
If your digital product or service falls under the new legislation, you’ll simply be required to make accessibility a consideration in your design process. Even if your service does not currently fall under the law, it can still be a good idea to future-proof your business against future legislation.
5. Because it’s the right thing to do
The digital world is integral to modern life. It empowers communication, enables trade, and creates life-altering opportunities. Accessible digital design allows people with disabilities to independently navigate the digital world – and by extension, their lives.
How can we best design accessible digital products?
Accessible design is not a new concept. It is simply returning to the roots of user-centered design. It’s about removing elements that make it harder for users to understand or use your service and adding elements that better their user experience.
It is important to note that accessible design does not only champion harsh, utilitarian values. It does not have to be boring. At its core, accessibility is a human-centric approach to design. We are aesthetic beings. We also like to be entertained.
Balancing aesthetics and accessibility can be a fine line. The following four pointers will help you confidently mount that tightrope and start designing phenomenal digital products.
Add accessibility into your success criteria
Accessibility needs to be considered at every stage of the design work, starting from the very first ideation. Get used to considering the accessibility implications of your design, coding, and content choices. If it’s not accessible, it does not go into production.
Enable a diverse set of talents to work closely together
Build diverse teams that work closely together. A diverse set of talents naturally accounts for a greater number of design considerations. And especially when designing accessible digital products, these teams cannot work in silos.
Usability, content design, and code need to be carefully woven together to create an accessible whole. As such, UX designers, content designers, and frontend developers need to work closely together to ensure the red thread of the end product stays aligned.
Iterate with diverse end users
Iteration and validation with a variety of end users is at the heart of accessible digital design. Don’t try to read minds. Ask.
The simplest way of understanding whether your design choices are accessible is by letting a diverse group of people play with it. Including people with disabilities into your test groups ensures you get a more holistic understanding of how well your choices serve your customers.
More than just a sum of its requirements
If there’s one thing you remember from this article, let it be this.
At the end of the day, digital accessibility is not just about meeting standards or fulfilling legal requirements. It is about ensuring that the vast majority of your audience can easily access and consume your product. Ensuring that everyone can seamlessly bridge the digital and physical worlds whenever they so wish.
It’s about empowering people through meaningful user experiences.
If you want to spar with us about digital accessibility, or map out ways you could make your digital products more accessible, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Contact our Design Lead and Head of Oulu Studio, Heli Jeskanen, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone +358505020719.