Public bodies are obliged to make their websites accessible. Private internet portals so far have not been subject to such requirements. This will change in Germany with the Accessibility Strengthening Act (Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz, BFSG). When will the requirements come into force? Who is affected? How can companies prepare? Find the answers in this article.
1. What happened so far: Requirements for Public Websites & Apps
In order to make it easier for people with special challenges to participate in digital public offerings, the European Union (EU) provided for minimum accessibility requirements in 2016 in the EU Website Directive 2016/2102. This directive was implemented in Germany at the federal level through adjustments to the Disability Equality Act (BGG) and the enactment of the Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance (BITV). At the state level, the respective equality laws were also amended and reference was made in them to the BITV or to independent state ordinances. Due to these legal requirements, the obligated public bodies must
- make web offers and apps technically accessible,
- provide accessibility statements,
- provide explanations in easy language and sign language; and
- report on accessibility to the responsible monitoring body, if applicable.
2. The next step: Accessibility in the private sector
Going one step further, the EU then focused on economic actors and issued Directive (EU) 2019/882 on accessibility requirements for products and services in April 2019. To implement this directive, the Bundestag passed the BFSG in May 2021. According to this, from 28 June 2025 onwards, numerous commercial enterprises operating in Germany must also design their B2C e-commerce websites to be barrier-free. What this means in concrete terms and whom it affects is shown below.
3. Who is subject to the Accessibility Strengthening Act (BFSG)?
The BFSG has a broad scope of application, covering IT products and services aimed at consumers and placed on the market on 28 June 2025 or later. The products covered include computer hardware, operating systems, self-service terminals, terminal equipment for the use of telecommunication services and media services as well as e-book readers (Section 1(2) BFSG). The services covered include telecommunications services, websites and apps of national transport providers, banking services, e-books and, last but not least, all “services in electronic commerce” (Section 1(3) BFSG). Thus, as of the cut-off date – 28 June 2025 – all B2C providers who sell their goods or services via websites or apps must comply with the requirements of the BFSG.
4. What does accessibility mean?
The products and services covered by the BFSG must be designed to be barrier-free (Sec. 3(1) BFSG). This is the case “if they can be found, accessed and used by persons with disabilities in the generally customary manner, without particular difficulty and, in principle, without outside assistance”. The concrete requirements that result from this for the design of products and services are to be regulated by a legal ordinance yet to be issued.
However, manufacturers and service providers do not have to wait for this legal ordinance to prepare themselves. Products and services are considered accessible an in compliance with the BFSG (including the not-yet-released ordinance) as long as they meet the official accessibility standards set by the EU. This presumption of conformity is contained in Sec. 4 BFSG. All that is required is therefore compliance with the European standard (EN) 301 549 entitled “Accessibility requirements for ICT products and services” – currently in version 3.2.1 (PDF) – which has been declared a harmonised standard for websites and apps by the EU Commission (see Official Journal of the EU).
5. When is a Website accessible?
With regard to the accessibility requirements for websites, the EN 301 549 refers to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The WCAG are currently available in version 2.1. They set out criteria for considering websites perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Three levels are distinguished: A, AA and AAA. The European standard adopts the medium requirement level (AA). B2C websites have to meet this level to comply with the German law from 28 June 2025. The essential requirements are:
- Functionally comparable alternatives should be available for the elements of a website in another form (for example, a text alternative for non-textual elements). The WCAG define detailed requirements for these alternatives with regard to videos, audio files and other media types – e.g. an audio track or a script can be provided as an alternative for videos without sound – and for other aids to be provided such as subtitles and descriptive texts.
- The information presented, its structure, sequence and meaning, including that of input fields, must be able be read by automatic means. This facilitates the development of digital assistants.
- Content must be clearly distinguishable. Colour must not be the only distinguishing feature of elements and there are minimum requirements for contrast and text spacing.
- Websites must adapt to the screen orientation and resolution of the user’s device (without the need for two-dimensional scrolling).
- Links must be self-explanatory. Page titles, headings and labels must indicate the subject and purpose of the respective section.
- Users must be given enough time to read and use content. Animated or flashing content must be able to be paused or hidden. Flashing content must be limited to prevent strokes.
- Websites must be fully operable by keyboard. Individual pages of a website must be accessible in several ways.
- Functions that can be accessed via multi-touch or gestures (swiping, etc.) must also be accessible via simple clicks. If functions can be triggered by a movement of the user or the device, this must be able to be deactivated and alternative control options must be available.
- Language must be able to be accessed and evaluated by digital assistants.
- The appearance and operation of a website must be predictable. For example, elements that appear repeatedly should have the same function.
- Input errors shall be automatically detected, highlighted and described. Where available, corrections shall be suggested.
- Websites are to be designed for a wide variety of existing and future clients, including smart assistants.
- Websites should contain meta-information for evaluation by digital assistants (for example, the name, function and value of controls; status messages).
6. How can Website Operators prepare?
Even though the BFSG will not come into force for a good three years, operators of B2C websites should prepare themselves early and consider making their websites accessible now.
- Implement accessibility: The effort required depends on the complexity and nature of the website, but is usually reasonable. Modern design frameworks that are widely used in web development support many of the required functions by default, which makes implementation easier. In addition, websites are WCAG-compliant if they either fulfil the WCAG requirements themselves or if a WCAG-compliant, alternative version of the page can be reached from there (WCAG requirement 5.2.1). This means that even individually developed, complex websites can remain largely unchanged if a WCAG-compliant alternative version is created for each page.
- Testing and, if necessary, certification: The WCAG conformity of websites will gain more attention in the future. Tools to test one’s own website for accessibility have been available for some time, as have providers of tests and certifications (such as the BIK BITV test). Those who already meet the requirements are setting a good example and have all the right to announce this to the outside world, e.g. as part of an image campaign.
- Legal check: At the latest before the BFSG comes into force, the website should be checked from a legal perspective. In addition to the requirements of the technical standard, it is also important to fulfil the information obligations according to Sec. 14 BFSG (for example, by amending the website’s terms and conditions).