At the time, a huge wave of panic swept over many website operators: in May 2018, the GDPR – General Data Protection Regulation – came into force. And although people had been aware of the underlying directive for quite a while by then, many seemed surprised when the time actually came. It was only at this point that website operators became aware of the consequences for their own digital domain.
This resulted in downright despair and paralysis, which led to general confusion – and people falling into blind actionism, i.e. taking action just for the sake of doing something.
Now another EU directive has been enshrined in national law. This one, the BFSGV, has just as much potential to cause panic as the GDPR did. This unwieldy abbreviation stands for Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz (Accessibility Strengthening Act). If your website is older than three years, you should definitely read on ...
The Barrier-Free Accessibility Strengthening Act is related to the BITV (Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance), which you may be familiar with from the self-test of the same name that enables you to check the accessibility credentials of your own website – whereby the term “accessibility” is misleading in this environment. Ultimately, the measures taken to pass the test merely circumvent many barriers or create alternative access points to the information presented. Therefore, the term “barrier-free” or the more generic “accessibility” would be more appropriate. However, the generic term “accessibility” is generally used in German to describe accessibility for people with limitations.
An often-used example of accessibility is the ramp (known as a wheelchair ramp, but of course it also provides an accessible stair alternative for strollers or walkers). Again, the staircase (=barrier) does not disappear, all that is provided is a way to get around the barrier.
The same then applies in the area of accessibility according to BITV. Accessibility is de facto an all-encompassing challenge that affects the digital, virtual and real worlds equally and is not purely technical, even in the digital world. A common barrier in digital offerings, for example, is a lack of legibility due to insufficient color contrasts. This is a design task, using the color palette available in corporate design to achieve the best possible readability for everyone. Incidentally, insufficient contrast is one of the most common shortcomings in website accessibility, along with editorial errors – such as empty ALT texts or incorrect links.
For digital offerings of public agencies, the BITV is already mandatory and affects:
This means that public bodies at federal, state and local level have to make their websites accessible at least in accordance with conformance level AA of WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Some schools and daycare centers as well as public broadcasters are exempt from the BITV. For the latter, dedicated guidelines on audiovisual media services apply.
In addition to the regulatory compulsion that comes with the implementation of BITV 2.0, it is often forgotten that with increased and improved accessibility, an often-neglected user group can be better reached with their own digital offering. For around 10% of people, accessibility is indispensable in all areas of daily life. For 40%, it represents a significant improvement and for all, it offers greater convenience and therefore, in the digital context, a significant factor in the user experience. So there are also clear economic arguments for successfully developing this topic for your own product.
Here at denkwerk, many of our client projects have already been made accessible, some of which were under considerably greater regulatory pressure in terms of time. For example, in 2018, a regulation on the accessibility of, among other things, flight booking offers in IBEs (Internet Booking Engines) was issued by the DOT (US Department of Transportation) in the USA, non-compliance with which could result in severe penalties (on a similar scale to the GDPR). Together with the stakeholders and other parties involved, denkwerk prepared the entire English-language websites and booking routes of the then-associated airlines Condor and Thomas Cook Airlines in conformity with WCAG 2.0 AA.
Under similar conditions, this year we worked on the accessibility of the website and booking route for Motel One for their market entry into the USA with their first hotel in New York. In the hospitality sector, the USA is also ahead of the Europeans in terms of digital accessibility because similarly concrete regulations apply in the same way that they do for flight bookings. For this project, denkwerk has established a close cooperation with accessibility consulting agency netz-barrierefrei. The head of the agency, Domingos de Oliveira, is actually blind himself. As an intensive user of assistive technologies, his analyses attain a higher level of quality. This clearly gives our customers an even higher level of security in terms of BFSGV and WCAG conformity.
We will continue to expand this collaboration for future accessibility projects wherever possible.
For many of us, 2025 may still seem a long way off. But the time to address the issue of accessibility is now. Depending on the prerequisites, general conditions, and other project conditions, analyzing and ensuring accessibility is not possible in the blink of an eye. It requires heterogeneous resources for the right accessibility, which should be planned early on. denkwerk is the ideal partner for this because we can offer you a holistic concept for barrier-free design in:
• UI and UX
And all from a single source.
Contact us: Our author and Technical Director Robert Krämer will advise you on how to make your websites accessible.