Digital accessibility - what does that mean?

Published on

January 24, 2023

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The blog series "That's why digital accessibility helps everyone" deals with digital accessibility, the laws as well as the content. The first article deals with the general question of what digital accessibility actually is.

Websites are to pay attention to "digital accessibility" - and the regulations are being successively expanded. With its guidelines, the EU is deliberately positioning itself for more operators to focus on accessibility in the digital world.  


What does accessibility mean on the Internet?

Accessibility generally means that everyday environments are designed in such a way that they are accessible to all without outside assistance. Initially, this means buildings, vehicles or merchandise. For digital spaces, this means designing all information and functions so that they are accessible to as many users as possible. Digital barriers must therefore be avoided - these can look like the following, for example: 
  • People with low vision find it difficult to read text with little contrast. 
  • Without subtitles or sign language, the deaf and hard of hearing cannot understand the video. 
  • If the website design is very complex or contains a lot of animations, people with low concentration or low cognitive ability may feel stressed. 
  • Non-native speakers and people with low reading skills have difficulty understanding complex texts with long sentences. 


Digital accessibility: EU Directive 2102 and who it applies to

As of September 23, 2018, all public institutions in Europe are required to make their digital products accessible. This includes all internal and external office documents, PDFs, intranets and extranets. Directive (EU) 2016/2102 is implemented in Germany by the Ordinance on Barrier-free Information Technology (BITV). The goal is the equal participation of all in social life. According to EU Directive 2102, certain websites must use digital accessibility. The new directive is crucial for: 
  • Special-purpose associations 
  • Health insurance companies and professional associations 
  • Online retailers 
  • Colleges, universities and universities of applied sciences 
  • Social security 
  • Chambers of industry and commerce, lawyers and doctors, professional associations and guilds 
  • Savings bank, state asset management and financial services 
  • Schools and kindergartens with online administration, and many more. 
As a general rule, any website that is 50 percent or more publicly funded has accessibility obligations. However, with exceptions: 
  • Non-governmental organizations that do not provide essential services to the public 
  • Schools and day care centers without online administrative functions 
  • Historical and cultural archives 
  • Websites and apps with archive-only functions 
  • Non-accessible functions, with accessible alternatives 

When must websites affected by this decision be accessible? 

All websites, office documents, and PDFs published after September 23, 2018 must be accessible by September 23, 2019. The same applies to pages and files already published if they are used for "active administrative procedures" such as applications or registrations. The EU is in the process of adopting Directive EN 2019/882, which is expected to come into force in 2025. It relies on uniform accessibility regulations in the areas of: 
  • E-commerce 
  • Banking services 
  • Audiovisual media, and more. 
All newly released intranets and extranets must be accessible as of this date. Existing websites are exempt from this regulation and are only required to do so for radical revisions. Sept. 23, 2020 is the deadline for websites released before Sept. 23, 2018. Recorded audio and video services must also be accessible immediately. Live broadcasts are not included. Since the end of June of 2021, non-web mobile applications must also be accessible.

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