Compliance

Germany's BITV Accessibility Law: Everything You Need to Know

A BITV 2.0 Compliance Guide

Accessibility is the practice of designing products and services to be usable by everyone, regardless of their abilities. People with disabilities should be able to participate fully in society and enjoy the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, wouldn't you agree?

 

Website accessibility is as important as physical accessibility in many instances. The internet is a vital tool most use multiple times a day for communication, education, and commerce. Unfortunately, most websites are not designed to be accessible, making it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use them. This has a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities and on society as a whole.

 

Is your website or web application accessible to people with disabilities? I’d say that’s up to you to tell me, but can you? In fact, a lot of people don’t know that their website or web app does not meet standards.

 

 

What is the WCAG?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are agreed-upon standards for web accessibility. They were formulated by independent accessibility experts and advocates who are not affiliated with any government. Many countries worldwide have chosen to build their own accessibility laws and regulations on the strong foundation of the WCAG.

 

 

Accessibility icons interspersed with web icons

Depending where in the world you are, and where your business operations are located, different or even multiple accessibility laws may apply to you.

The good news is that if you 1, always use the WCAG as your guide, and 2, put WCAG recommendations into place with some expert help and advice, you can reasonably expect to be in compliance with accessibility laws around the globe.

 

Of course, it is wisest to fully assess both your website or web app’s functionality for users with disabilities, if possible with the assistance of a user with disabilities. And, check through the list of accessibility points your website or app must correctly cover for full localized compliance.

 

Because the European Accessibility Act will be enforced in 2025, it behooves executives anywhere in Europe to understand that accessibility is and should be a very high priority.

 

Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung (BITV) 2.0

What is the BITV?

For people who don’t speak German, here’s a quick translation: Barrier-free information technology regulation. Now that’s straightforward. And people say German is complicated! 

bitv2 0

The BITV 2.0 is Germany’s accessibility law specifically covering IT (information technology). It is built upon Germany’s Federal Disability Equalization Law, Das Bundesbehindertengleichstellungsgesetz (BGG).

 

What is the BGG? 

That’s the short name for the Gesetz zur Gleichstellung von Menschen mit Behinderungen, the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons. It’s commonly known as the Equal Opportunity Act, or just the BGG. Very similar to the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the BGG was established to effect equal opportunities and rights for people with disabilities.

 

 

 

 

The BGG is a law created to require public sector bodies to make their buildings and public spaces accessible. This referred originally to physical accessibility. In 2016, the German government passed the BITV 2.0 ordinance. This law expanded the physical accessibility requirements of the BGG to also include public sector websites and mobile applications. So, the BITV 2.0 is a digital extension of the BGG general and physical accessibility law. And, the German BITV 2.0 law is based on the WCAG worldwide guidelines.

 

For Americans, or those who are more familiar with American disability inclusion law, the BGG loosely parallels the ADA, while the BITV 2.0 is comparable to Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

 

What is the BFSG?

To add a little extra complication, here’s one more acronym for a very long German word. The Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz translates to The Accessibility Strengthening Act, and it does what it says on the tin: it adds teeth to the BGG and the BITV. It requires accessibility to be implemented for all products and services before June 28, 2025. Fines and penalties for noncompliance may go up to 100,000 Euro. Essentially, it’s an enforcement of the earlier laws.

 

Versions: BITV 2.0 is based on WCAG 2.1. WCAG recently updated to 2.2. While not currently required, WCAG 2.2 is recommended, and most accessibility laws worldwide will eventually incorporate it.

 

 

Are there different levels of BITV compliance?

Not exactly, but there are three levels of WCAG compliance.

 

Level A (the bare basics) is followed by Level AA, which is the minimum compliance required by law in most cases. Level AA includes and improves on Level A, and it covers important aspects of web accessibility like adding alternative text to images, and transcribing audio and video.

 

Level AAA includes Level AA and goes to a higher level of compliance. Triple-A includes additional steps towards improved accessibility, such as sign language interpretation for videos, and making sure that content can be read by screen readers without errors.

 

 

What Does the BITV 2.0 Cover?

The BGG, the law that encompasses the BITV, requires that every German citizen have equal access to goods and services, regardless of physical or mental disabilities. “Goods and services” includes transport, technical and non-technical products, information sources, and communication tools.

 

What’s Included in the IT part of the BITV?

 While the general term IT is familiar to most, let’s identify what it contains specifically for this law.

Hardware
Computers, servers, networking equipment, mobile devices, and other tech-related devices.

Software
Application software, operating systems, programming languages, and other types of software.

Services
Web hosting, cloud computing, internet service providers (ISPs), and other IT-related services.

 

Who’s Obligated to Provide Accessibility Under the BGG and BITV?

All public sector bodies in Germany are required to follow BITV 2.0 strictly. The BGG accessibility law and the BITV tech extension are aimed at German governmental entities, organizations overseen by the federal government, and partnerships that include at least one government agency.  Public sector bodies also includes schools, hospitals, and libraries. Other businesses and organizations may want to come into compliance with BITV 2.0, even if they are not legally required to do so as of yet.

 

What Changes Apply Under the BFSG?

The BFSG mandates that companies offering goods and services provide them accessibly, even if the organization is not attached to or part of the German government.

This expansion ordinance covers businesses managing digital devices, including computers, smartphones and similar devices, digital television equipment, ATMs, e-readers, ticketing machines, and websites, as well as those that offer phone services, banking services, and e-commerce platforms.

 

 

What is the EAA?

In addition to Germany's BITV 2.0, the European Union also has a law called the European Accessibility Act (EAA). The EAA requires EU member states to make public sector websites and mobile applications accessible to people with disabilities. This includes Germany.

The EAA is similar to BITV 2.0 in that it is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. The EAA goes beyond BITV 2.0 in some areas. For example, the EAA requires public sector bodies to make their self-service terminals and other electronic devices accessible to people with disabilities.

To be fully compliant with all accessibility laws, organizations in Germany must also follow EAA requirements for European Union member states, as well as the BGG, BITV 2.0, and BFSG ordinances.

 

Why the Growing Push for Accessibility?

The physical and digital environments we’re creating and using should offer access to people with a range of different needs. It’s only fair. More people, and consequently more governmental bodies, are now aware of the need for accessibility in general. And, we’re also starting to understand that the digital realm is an increasingly critical arena of modern life, and should be made fully accessible. This movement towards more a more accessible world is happening everywhere. Germany is no different.

 

 

 

Business Owners, Did You Know?

 
gavel

Accessibility is becoming a legal requirement in more and more places. Non-compliant businesses face potential legal repercussions, as well as risking major financial liabilities. Users with disabilities find it hard to use a vast majority of sites today, in part because of busy layouts, unclear menu options, and inaccessible security checks. 71% of these users exit and head straight to rival platforms instead.

Accessibility-compliant business bonuses: A W3C study found that accessible websites have an increased conversion rate: 95% higher. Studies show that among the general population, 86% would rather use businesses that serve everyone, while 64% would choose to invest money in firms like these. And, a study found that businesses focusing on inclusive design saw huge jumps in revenue: up to x1.7%.

rising numbers
toothbrush

Products and services made for broad accessibility reach and serve many more people than their makers planned. The electric toothbrush was first created to help individuals with limited motor skills. Today, it is used by over 120M Americans and millions of Europeans… 3x its original target audience. Digital products and services are no exception. Want to expand your market? Include people with disabilities.

Yes, Accessibility Is That Important

Adding a single step early on in the planning process can create huge changes in how people access facilities, services, and information. When we think ahead, it’s easier to include options that allow for that. And, as our businesses and organizations grow, we should keep a watch on how accessible we are, and how we can improve accessibility for people with disabilities.

 

What happens when the accessibility part of planning a website or doesn’t get taken into account?

The instant answer is, people are blocked from accessing your site or app. Right now. That’s not okay.

 

 

The business answer is, when web accessibility is overlooked or forgotten, businesses risk alienating a significant portion of potential customers. Approximately 15% of the world's population has some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization. The Return on Disability Groumorep notes that this demographic controls an annual disposable income close to $2 trillion. That’s without counting the circles of influence of people with disabilities: their friends, loved ones, and people who are paying attention when they share their experiences with your site or app. Neglecting accessibility means missing out on a mighty substantial market share.

 
accessibilitys importance inclusion revenue business reputation financial repercussions

The human answer is, if you neglect accessibility, you’re not only leaving people out of extras or fun activities. You’re creating unnecessary obstacles to things people need to live: shopping for food and medicine, applying to jobs, finding critical information about daily issues, or getting help in an emergency.


The smart answer is, you take the next logical step. You fix it.


How Do I Fix My Inaccessible Site or App?

First, check your accessibility levels. There are several ways to check whether your website or web application is BITV 2.0 compliant. One way is to use an accessibility testing tool. Many different accessibility testing tools are available, both free and paid.


Another way to check your website or web application for BITV 2.0 compliance is to have it audited by an accessibility expert. Accessibility experts can identify accessibility issues on your website or web application. Then, you can fix the accessibility issues, or hire an individual or team to fix them.


Top Tips to Improve Accessibility for BITV 2.0 with WCAG

Here are some of the top solutions for improving web accessibility, specifically following Germany's BITV 2.0 accessibility law, with reference to WCAG guidelines:


Accessibility Testing & Monitoring

A wide range of software tools are available to evaluate the accessibility of websites, web applications, and other digital products. These testing and monitoring tools can identify a wide range of accessibility issues, such as missing alternative text for images, low color contrast, and inaccessible forms.

Accessibility Code Review

This is a process where an accessibility expert reviews the code of a website or web application to identify and fix accessibility issues. This type of review is sometimes referred to as an accessibility audit. A full accessibility audit, however, can also include other types of assessments, as well as code review. 

Accessibility Consulting

Best done in tandem with the previous two solutions. In this step, an accessibility expert works with a website or web application owner to develop and implement an accessibility plan.

What are some companies that provide accessibility testing, code reviews, and consulting?

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    • Accessibility Overlays
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Accessibility overlays are a solution that can be added to an existing website or web application without having to make any changes to the underlying code. While overlays may not solve all accessibility problems, they can be very helpful.

 

Some companies that offer popular overlay solutions:

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    These overlays provide accessibility features such as alternative text for images, transcripts for audio and video, and keyboard navigation.

     

    Accessibility overlays serve as a valuable tool for organizations seeking to enhance the accessibility of their digital platforms. These solutions can quickly address common accessibility barriers, providing immediate improvements for users with disabilities. It is important to recognize that overlays complement, rather than replace, a comprehensive accessibility strategy. While overlays effectively address many accessibility issues, they may not fully comply with all accessibility standards or address all user needs. Organizations should integrate overlays as part of a broader accessibility plan, incorporating manual testing, remediation (fixing issues), and ongoing accessibility efforts to achieve a truly inclusive digital experience. It is also critical that you evaluate any such tools suggested before deciding on one.

     

    Accessibility Widgets

    Accessibility widgets are another type of accessibility solution that can be added to an existing website or web application without having to make any changes to the underlying code. Accessibility widgets typically provide a specific accessibility feature, such as a screen reader or a magnifier. Although not all widgets are overlays, the two terms can overlap.

    A few interesting accessibility widgets:

Implementation of Best Accessibility Practices

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Aside from automated or expert advice and intervention, what can you do yourself to make your website or web application more accessible, and more compliant with BITV 2.0 and the WCAG guidelines?

 

In all digital design and development, consider and undertake the following accessibility measures:

 
  1. Don't rely solely on color as a way to relay information.
  2. Maintain proper contrast ratios for text and visuals.
  3. Enable and test keyboard-only navigation.
  4. Support screen readers and assistive devices.
  5. Automatically detect and correct input errors.
  6. Use clear and understandable typography and content.
  7. Provide meaningful, clear text alternatives for visual content.
  8. Offer captions for audio and video content.
  9. Clearly distinguish table headers, and mark them up correctly.
  10. Make input field purposes clear.
  11. Allow ample time for user content engagement.
  12. Use clear and correctly marked up titles, headings, and labels.
When Is My BITV 2.0 Accessibility Complete?
 

As the German proverb would have it, “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei”. Literally translated this means “Everything has an end, only a sausage has two.” Or in other words, “All things come to an end.”

 

Well then, when you’ve made some serious progress towards accessibility compliance, are you done? No. You aren’t. Accessibility initiatives can be completed. But websites and web apps are dynamic. They change. And so do WCAG guidelines. And so do laws. In other words, you’re done with this step, but there are many more steps you’ll need to take along the way. From the German perspective, this may be a Wurst case scenario. There’s more to it.

 

If you had a bratwurst for breakfast yesterday, you were good for yesterday, but you’re still going to want to eat again tomorrow. In tech terms, just as you update your website’s content and code continually, you should be checking your accessibility compliance on a regular basis. Not quite as often as you have breakfast, but as often as makes sense for you. You can do a major accessibility assessment either when you make major changes to your site or app, or about once a quarter. But you should also be monitoring your accessibility on an ongoing basis as well.

 
graphic depicting the cycle of ensuring accessibility requirements, through assessing a website or app, reving the issues and planning fixes, implementing all the fixes, reassess compliance and changing the content or code accordingly

Moving Ahead With Accessibility

Germany's BITV 2.0 Accessibility Law plays a crucial role in fostering a more inclusive digital environment. Compliance not only avoids legal complications but also opens up your content to a broader audience, contributing to a more accessible online world.

 

 

Businesses and organizations that want to be more inclusive and accessible should consider complying with BITV 2.0, even if they are not required to do so. By complying with BITV 2.0, businesses and organizations can reach a wider audience, improve their reputation, and avoid legal action. And, of course, they should also conform to the rest of the relevant ABC’s: the BGG, the BFSG, the EAA and the WCAG. Making the digital dimension more equal and accessible for people with disabilities also improves the experience for everyone.

 

 

There's another saying in German: “Der Anfang ist die Hälfte des Ganzen”, which translates to “The beginning is half of the whole.” As a parallel saying in English goes, “Well begun is half done.” Getting started is often the most difficult part of any endeavor. Once you have begun, you are halfway to your goal. So let's get started and move accessibility forward, to a better future for us all.

 

 

 

FAQs

Germany's BITV 2.0 Accessibility Law established requirements for digital content to be made accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. It aims to eliminate barriers and promote inclusivity in the digital space, aligning with the European Union's directive on web accessibility.

BITV 2.0 compliance is primarily enforced by the relevant government authorities in Germany. They monitor compliance among public sector organizations, and check to make sure that websites and applications adhere to the accessibility guidelines outlined in the law.

BITV 2.0 compliance itself does not offer direct financial incentives. However, organizations that prioritize accessibility often experience increased user engagement, expanded customer bases, and enhanced reputation. And, avoiding legal penalties and litigation costs can be considered a financial incentive.

BITV 2.0 compliance requirements generally apply to all organizations, regardless of their size. Specific implementation and deadlines may vary based on factors such as the type of content and organization. It's advisable for all businesses, including small ones, to strive for accessibility.

 

BITV 2.0 is closely aligned with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). BITV 2.0 references WCAG guidelines and provides additional criteria specific to German and EU requirements. Complying with WCAG guidelines is an essential part of meeting BITV 2.0 standards.

The BITV guidelines, including BITV 2.0, are periodically reviewed and updated to align with evolving accessibility standards and technological advancements. It's essential to stay informed about any revisions to ensure ongoing compliance.

Penalties for continued non-compliance with BITV 2.0 can include fines and legal action. The severity of penalties may vary based on the nature and extent of the accessibility violations. To avoid these consequences, organizations are encouraged to proactively work towards and maintain BITV 2.0 compliance.

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