Ab 2025: Barrierefreie Websites, Apps und Co. werden zur Pflicht

Design for Everyone: Accessibility Becomes a Digital Standard

Bild: Beitragsbild Digitale Barrierefreiheit
In this article In this article, we want to draw your attention to an EU directive whose implementation will probably affect all of you. The European Accessibility Act aims to make the digital offerings of all European companies accessible from 2025. We give you an overview of the timetable as well as the various aspects of the topic that you should be aware of. (Images: CC0 by Polina Tankilevitch, Cliff Booth, Gustavo Fring)

Digital accessibility becomes a legal requirement

In all honesty, when you look at your company’s digital offerings: How big a role has the topic of accessibility played in development so far? Are your websites and apps, for example, easy to use for people with visual impairments? Up til now, if the brand has been the focus of your design, you are not alone. Because accessibility means a lot of work in detail, which for many hasn’t been a focus so far.

However, this will now have to change, because from 2025 an EU directive will make accessibility a standard for all digital offerings in Europe. In principle, this is a good thing, because in Germany alone there are around 8 million people with severe disabilities. For software-developing companies, however, this means that in the future all digital products will have to meet the specified accessibility standards. And for that, you need the appropriate know-how, for example to integrate the topic into the development processes or to establish documentation.

Bild: EU Accessibility Roadmap
The timeline shows a selection of digital accessibility laws
 As you can see, it’s high time to take care of the issue and integrate accessibility into the development processes. The good news is that all laws and guidelines refer to a common standard, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The W3C has been publishing these since 1999 and updates them regularly using a version number. There are three quality classes, identified by the levels A, AA and AAA. The national laws for implementation are expected to be based on the AA standard of WCAG 2.2, which is to be published in 2021.

Many laws, one standard

USA
In the USA, the amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act has become law in 2018. It requires digital accessibility in information and communication technologies to be adhered to by government agencies. (Image: CC0 by isakarakus)

Germany
In Germany, the “Barrierefreie Informationstechnik-Verordnung” (BIT V2.0) has been in force since 2019. It is part of many internal agreements on equality and occupational health and safety and is thus already the de facto standard for B2B software and additionally binding for federal authorities. (Image: CC0 by Clker Free Vector Images)

Europe
In Europe, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) applies, which private-sector companies must implement by 2025. This means that from this date onwards, all digital products will have to meet digital accessibility standards in order to obtain a CE mark and thus approval on the market. (Image: CC0 by OpenClipart-Vectors)

The EAA does not only refer to software, but also includes hybrid products and touchpoints:

> Computers, operating systems, and smartphones

ATMs, ticket and check-in machines

> Services in air, bus, train and ship transport

Banking services and electronic commerce

TV sets for digital television services

> Software, apps, websites on all relevant devices

 

The devil is in the details

Accessibility is about making our media and especially the Internet easily usable for everyone – regardless of permanent or temporary physical or cognitive handicaps. This can mean optimizing a website for the color-blind or for people who can only use one hand. Accessibility becomes complex because there are many similar examples, and all of them have to be considered when designing digital touchpoints. Because at its core, accessibility means design for all.

As is often the case, there are details to the implementation that present challenges and a steep learning curve. On the one hand, this includes the technical side, and on the other, the integration into the development processes is also a driver of complexity. The specified WCAG standards require content to be easily perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. They are described in more detail in the Accessibility Journal of the German UPA, among others. The standards each require interpretation in order to be incorporated into the company’s own products in the best possible way. And, of course, this should be done consistently across the products. In addition, the verification of AA conformity requires integration into the development process and the definition of done; test tracks, quality assurance, and documentation must also be established for this purpose.

Regarding complexity, take a look at the following example:

Bild: Digitale Barrierefreiheit gestalten
Complex problems: Screen reader example
People with visual impairments  can use a screen reader to read out the contents of a website or, for example, output it via a Braille display for touching. To do this, the software must be able to correctly interpret the website’s code and its output must of course be understandable for the user. In an example like the form above, the devil is often in the details: For example, it is not enough to describe the link to the help page as a “question mark”. This raises the question of where and how such invisible texts should be documented and how updates should be handled.

 

Who says that accessibility always has to be a quick fix, but can’t also lead to better usability and more satisfaction for everyone?Anna Kuchtin

 

Human meets brand

In order to achieve this goal, we as providers of websites and other digital media must put ourselves in the shoes of potential users as early as the conceptual design stage. Only in this way can we take into account the range and diversity of human needs. And in this sense, this is not a one-way street, because a good UX also has a positive effect on people’s encounters with the brand. For this reason alone, many companies have already addressed the issue, even without legal pressure.

Fundamentally, getting started early also means that you can work more thoroughly to create a meaningful and high-quality overall concept. And who says that accessibility always has to be a quick fix, but can’t also lead to better usability and more satisfaction for everyone? Our advice is therefore clear: Give the topic the attention it deserves and start gathering experience. The lawyers may say that 2025 is still a long time away, but you should not underestimate the organizational effort it might take to realize accessibility.

 


Author and contact

Image: Anna Kuchtin, Designer at Iconstorm

Anna Kuchtin is in charge of accessibility at Iconstorm. If you want to prepare for 2025 or have general questions about the topic, feel free to contact her. In our projects on this topic we always work closely with our customers and will surely tailor a solution for you that will allow you to follow all the new requirements.

+49 (0) 69 15 32 018 26