Accessible design is good design: how to meet the new EU rules


Danielle DeveneySenior UX Designer
Michelle MulveySenior UX Designer


he European Accessibility Act will apply from mid-2025. Here’s why it’s the perfect trigger for embracing inclusive design and improved user experience that benefits everyone.

From June 2025, the European Accessibility Act will come into force and we believe it’s an opportunity, not an obstacle.

This is the chance for designers, developers, decision makers, and leaders invested in making products or services usable, to build accessibility in from the beginning, or, if retrofitting existing products, to start now to meet the new standards.

Although legislation is something we have to comply with, it actually provides us with a set of useful standards to adhere to and can provide real direction to guide our work.

Who benefits from accessibility?

At heart, accessibility is about including people that have a disability or who are excluded from the conversation. For able-bodied people, accessibility can be hard to relate to, but we’re talking about serving a large audience, not a minority group: one sixth of people in the world have a documented disability, says the the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"An estimated 1.3 billion people experience significant disability. This represents 16% of the world’s population, or 1 in 6 of us." - The World Health Organisation

If you think about it, you probably know several people living with a disability of some sort. As well as documented disabilities, such as blindness or hearing difficulties, there are also situational or temporary disabilities that are less obvious. For example,  people who are recovering from injury and can’t use their arms for a period of time. Or hidden disabilities, like dyslexia, traumatic brain injuries, or autism.

THE CUT-CURB EFFECT. How wheelchair-accessible footpaths became a symbol of universal design, described in a 99% invisible episode here.

To bring it back to design principles, it all comes back to how well you know your users.

The EU argues that accessibility makes life easier for everyone. We agree: accessible design is good design. Making a product more accessible means making it more efficient and easy to use. So, as consumers, we all stand to gain. For example, wheelchair-accessible footpaths make life more convenient for everyone, not just wheelchair users but people with buggies, shopping trollies, or delivery drivers. In the online world, think of closed captions on YouTube or Netflix videos; we’re all using them now.

The EAA sets out to help everyone when using digital products and services, like being able to increase the font size or by making navigation easier with a mouse or a keyboard, or by changing the colour contrast. Accessibility also extends to using inclusive language in your content, without unnecessary jargon so the reader can easily understand it.

There’s a good chance that today, your digital product or service, website or app may not meet the guidelines laid out in the EAA. For example, last year 96.3% of website homepages failed some of the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2). But now we’ll talk through how to get started, and what steps to take so your accessibility initiative is a success.

Show leadership

Leadership buy-in from the start is crucial for making accessibility a key part of your product or service. Those leaders who champion it should be excited and enthusiastic. Having seen some initiatives up close, the ones that worked best were ones where the design leader engaged with the different departments, after an internal kickoff session where it’s clear that accessibility will be a core part of the project.

Stark white paper. Stark, the accessibility workflow suite, recently published their first white paper on the state of accessibility in the digital world, read it here.
We’ve found that one of the best qualities to have is to recognise what you don’t know. There are resources you can rely on to help: a great reference worth checking out is the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. It has easy-to-digest content and a section dedicated to communications and digital, web and mobile accessibility.

Assess your current state

Evaluate your digital product or service from an accessibility perspective. Understand where you are and where you need to get to.

Now’s also the moment to assess your team’s skills. Do they understand accessibility and what needs to be done? Showing leadership makes it easier for others to put their hands up and say “I don’t know either”. Take it as an opportunity to learn more, or contribute and champion. Understand where there are gaps in people’s knowledge and where there is training to address that.

Everyone on the team needs to contribute to accessibility efforts, even those outside of the design and development departments, like legal or marketing. Accessibility impacts in ways you won’t necessarily have thought of: for marketing, you might need to check who’s proofing the content, and what are the right reading levels this needs to meet.

Engage with users of all abilities

Now comes evaluating your digital product or service. Learning from users directly is invaluable for unearthing insights in any project, and there’s a strong argument for testing with users of all abilities throughout the product lifecycle.

As described in this excellent blog from Vision Australia, including people with disabilities in your testing will find a larger range of issues, not just those associated with disability.

"For instance, people with dyslexia, motor impairment and screen magnifier users will find some of the same issues that non-disabled people encounter"

So, as we’ve said before, being as inclusive as possible benefits everyone.

We’ve made the case for seeing accessibility as an investment, not a cost, but there are still some useful ways to manage your budget during this stage. We use virtual user research tools like Lookback, which makes the process more cost-effective and accessible.

Don’t just wait until the end of your development process to test accessibility – keep it in throughout the process. And if you’re thinking of making a new product, tool or app, build it in from the start, so you can be sure it’s meeting the needs of all users.

What else can I do?

‘Fail fast and often’ has unfortunately become a tech industry mantra, but we think it’s better to be curious. So much of this subject hinges on our mindset. Approach accessibility by asking questions: what could we achieve if we were more inclusive and thought about more people? It’s about being cognisant right throughout the design process.

Here’s a good example
of what it’s like for someone navigating with a screen reader
  • Be curious about looking at websites. Think: “I wonder if that’s why it’s designed that way?” “How would I navigate this without a mouse?”
  • Watch and listen on YouTube for what a screen reader sounds like and what it is reading
  • Question the vocabulary you use in your content. Ask: “If I didn’t have domain knowledge, would I understand that?”
  • Access websites on low bandwidth; what do you see, and can you follow the content easily?

Accessibility needs to be part of the entire design process, not just at certain points in time. It’s easy to get carried away when we’re in sprint 8 of 12, in the thick of how a specific feature might work, and lose sight of the bigger picture. So, here’s where leaders can play an important role by regularly bringing the conversation back to: “when was the last time we talked about accessibility?”

As we’ve tried to establish so far, meeting accessibility goals doesn’t need to involve barriers or obstacles. We can take heart knowing that we’ve tackled large-scale changes to the way we work in the relatively recent past: the EU GDPR showed it can be done. What’s different this time is that GDPR came with no guidelines and little direction at the start; whereas for accessibility we have a lot of good practice to show us the way. Investing in accessibility is investing in good design. If you design with everyone in mind, you design a better experience. No matter what role you have in the team, there’s surely no better motivation than that.

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