European Accessibility Act: impact on airports

As the number of people with reduced mobility (PRMs) increases due to an aging population, new European rules urge airports to review their current accessibility standards.

In response to this demographic shift and the impending legislation, airports across Europe are required to ensure that all facilities and digital services introduced after June 28, 2025, are universally accessible.

What is the EAA, how does it impact airport accessibility, and what should airports prioritise to comply with these regulations?

PRM assistance aids and companion

In short

  • European airports must ensure that facilities and digital services introduced after June 28, 2025, comply with the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
  • The EAA standardises accessibility rules across EU member states in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • An ageing population increases the percentage of people with reduced mobility, intensifying the need for accessible airport facilities.
  • New requirements focus on making all digital services accessible, including providing information in multiple formats such as audio and braille.

The EAA was created to meet the wide-ranging and differently applied rules for accessibility from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This led to inconsistencies in accessibility standards across different EU countries and has complicated the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities. The new rules seek to rectify this by introducing uniform accessibility rules across all member states.

The EEA is broad and states that all digital services provided must be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities. This means that information needs to be presented in various formats to ensure everyone can perceive, understand, operate, and use these services effectively.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management are responsible for implementing the EAA for air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport services. With regard to airports, they note that information critical to passengers, such as details before, during, and after a journey, be available in formats that meet the diverse needs of all users. “Therefore, all information must be available in multiple formats beyond just text, for example by incorporating audio output or braille to utilise more than one sensory channel, and presented in a straightforward, easily understandable format”, the Ministry notes.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, improving accessibility is a case of continuous improvement for airports. “Many airports are working on providing consistent information on essential services like real-time travel updates and to provide it in accessible formats.”

European airports are required to comply with the new accessibility rules by June 28, 2025. While the specifics of compliance may vary across different European countries, the Netherlands has designated the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport, ILT) to oversee adherence to these regulations for the aviation sector.

PRM assistance desk

An ageing population

“Considering the ageing population, an increasing number of people will likely benefit from these enhancements, making it crucial for airports to not only comply with the EAA but to also continuously strive for higher accessibility standards,” a Ministry spokesperson emphasised.

The introduction of new accessibility legislation arrives at a particularly pivotal moment and aligns with a demographic shift highlighted by the United Nations' World Population Prospects 2022. As the global population sees an increase in the elderly demographic, the percentage of individuals over the age of 65 is expected to rise from about 10% in 2022 to nearly 16% by 2050. This trend is significant for the aviation industry, which should prepare for an increase in persons with reduced mobility (PRMs).

Currently, PRMs make up approximately 1% to 2% of all passengers travelling by air, but this number is expected to grow considerably. The natural correlation between advancing age and the onset of disabilities — particularly those related to mobility, vision, and hearing — presents challenges for airports worldwide. The timing of the new accessibility rules underlines the urgent need for enhanced infrastructure and services to accommodate the evolving passenger profile.

Comparing the EAA and ADA

The EAA shares a common goal with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): enhancing accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Established in 1990, before the widespread implementation of digital systems in airports, the ADA addresses accessibility in transportation, public spaces, and more. Over the years, it has adapted to include digital accessibility through legal interpretations.

In contrast, the EAA zeroes in on the current needs, focusing specifically on digital accessibility and requires digital services to be accessible for everyone.

For US airports, understanding the EAA’s emphasis on digital accessibility offers insights into global trends. This knowledge could help anticipate future standards and influence their accessibility strategies.

How should accessibility be achieved?

"Travelling is very exciting, but if you have a disability, it can also be quite stressful,” says Peter Waalboer, a representative of Schiphol’s Persons with Reduced Mobility soundboard group. Born with a visual impairment and fully blind since 2011, Waalboer has firsthand experience with the challenges faced by passengers with disabilities. He welcomes the introduction of the EEA and shares his thoughts on the implementation process.

“Navigating airports with a visual impairment requires meticulous pre-planning and consideration of potential scenarios where things might go wrong”, says Peter Waalboer. Despite the best-laid plans, unforeseen situations can always arise and can lead to distressing experiences.

Waalboer recounts a particular incident at a Spanish airport where the promised assistance did not show up, leaving him and his wife, who is also blind, stranded. Forced to rely on his cane and intuition, Waalboer navigated the airport until he stumbled upon the correct gate. However, the discomfort of boarding the plane last, with all passengers already seated and waiting for him to get on the plane, was an experience he would rather not have gone through.

He therefore emphasises the importance of predictability and control when travelling. Although he routinely utilises available assistance services, the autonomy to manage your own journey is very important. His experience of not being picked up highlighted the need for a fail-safe mechanism, like a universally accessible call-to-action button or application, allowing stranded travellers to alert airport staff. Waalboer advocates for the standardisation of such services across Europe to eliminate the need to adjust to different systems and interfaces with each journey.

The design of accessible systems, Waalboer believes, should prioritise simplicity and clarity. For individuals relying on audio interfaces to navigate websites, a cluttered digital environment can be overwhelming as text to speech devices relay every detail on the page. However, Waalboer remains realistic about the concept of universal accessibility and acknowledges that what aids one individual might hinder another. The trend of reducing airport announcements, for instance, benefits people who are easily overwhelmed by noise, but poses significant challenges for the blind who rely on auditory information.

Waalboer says there probably isn't a single solution that works for all; “it is a balancing act, it is about finding a middle ground and constantly working to meet the different needs of all travellers.”

Opportunity to reevaluate accessibility

While the ageing population combined with the new legislation comes with a lot of challenges for airports, it can also serve as an opportunity to reevaluate accessibility. Schiphol is rolling out new PRM call points to enhance airport accessibility that were designed with the requirements of the EEA in mind. Also, during the development Schiphol has closely collaborated with the Airport User Committee, a committee of representatives of airport users and organisations. Schiphol Group Aviation Solutions makes it possible for other airports to implement and use the same system and benefit from shared developments. Featuring video call capability, touchscreens, and barcode scanners, Schiphol's PRM call points improve communication and assistance for PRM passengers.

schiphol prm callpoint binnen
Mockup of the PRM call points,
to become available in 2024

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