Understanding Germany’s BITV Compliance for Accessibility

Understanding Germany’s BITV Compliance for Accessibility
Accessibility is essential for modern digital environments. It is a foundation that enables users of all abilities, including individuals with visual and cognitive impairments, to access the content and get a high-quality interactive experience on the web page. However, accessibility is more than editing your content or adding a few lines to your code. Accessibility is a systematic approach that aims to improve, rebuild, and regulate the settings in an environment so everyone can easily access and engage with the platform.

What is BITV?

The Berlin Barrier-Free Information Technology (BITV) is an ordinance enacted by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry of the Interior of Germany in 2002 based on the disability discrimination act. According to the BITV, people of all abilities should have equal, comprehensive, and unrestricted access to information and communication technology. BITV applies to all websites, mobile applications, intranets, extranets, electronically supported administrative processes, and graphical program interfaces.

German Accessibility Laws

Gesetz zur Gleichstellung von Menschen mit Behinderungen (BGG)

Also known as the Equal Opportunity Act, the BGG was established to ensure that those with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities. The BGG law requires government buildings and public spaces in Germany to be physically accessible to all. The BITV is an extension of physical accessibility to the digital world.

Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz (BFSG)

The BFSG translates as the Accessibility Strengthening Act. It was implemented to make all products and services accessible before June 2025. It is an enforcement of the BGG and BITV to ensure complete accessibility. It enforces fines and penalties of up to 100000 Euros for non-compliance.

Who Needs to Comply With BITV?

As the BITV law is based on BGG, it requires that every German citizen should have equal access to digital resources, regardless of physical and mental disabilities. It encompasses all information technology products and services. It includes all business dealing in –
  1. Hardware: Computers, servers, networking equipment, mobile devices, and other tech-related devices.
  2. Software: Mobile applications, web applications, operating systems, programming languages, and other types of software.
  3. Services: Web-hosting, cloud computing, internet service providers (ISPs), and other IT-related services.
All public-sector bodies, organizations overseen by the federal government, and all partnerships involving at least one government body come under the combined impact of BGG and BITV. Private organizations and businesses may also comply with BITV, even though they are not legally required.

Accessibility Requirements of BITV and BGG

The BITV and BGG behoove all organizations to accommodate individuals with visual and cognitive impairment in their digital content. Therefore, the principles of responsive design apply to all digital assets. They include
  • Media: All images must be accompanied by ALT text, subtitles, or transcripts for audio and video content.
  • Links: Enabling keyboard navigation for all clickable links on the page.
  • Color: All colors should be properly contrasted to ensure clarity and visibility for all users.
  • Formatting: All documents and webpages should be formatted for readability and clarity of textual information. The content should be accessible with screen readers.
  • Structure: The content should have appropriate titles, headings, and sub-headings.

German Accessibility Laws and WCAG Compliance

The German accessibility laws, including the BITV 2.0 and WCAG, emphasize that all websites and applications offered by German institutions must be accessible to those with disabilities. The content should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR) with assistive technologies like screen readers.
German accessibility laws also make it mandatory to incorporate an accessibility declaration into an accessible and machine-readable format on the home page and all website pages. The rules also describe the method of monitoring and reporting website compliance.
Read More: WCAG Compliance

Consequences of Non-Compliance

The German Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities or BGG makes it mandatory to set up an arbitration service to address any conflicts among people with disabilities and organizations that do not provide accessible web content. When users wish to take legal action, the plaintiff may submit a complaint through the arbitration service. Then, both parties may work together to resolve the accessibility issues.
If a resolution is not found or an organization does not fulfill the accessibility requirements, the plaintiff may go to court. If the organization is found guilty of inaccessibility, there may be hefty fines, damage to brand reputation, and other implications.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Berlin Barrier-Free Information Technology (BITV) is pivotal in ensuring equal access to digital resources for all individuals, irrespective of their physical or mental abilities. Enacted in 2002 as an extension of the Equal Opportunity Act (BGG), BITV mandates that websites, mobile applications, and other digital platforms comply with accessibility standards. These standards, aligned with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), emphasize perceivability, operability, understandability, and compatibility with assistive technologies.
German accessibility laws, such as BGG and the Accessibility Strengthening Act (BFSG), impose strict compliance deadlines and penalties for non-conformity, reinforcing the commitment to digital inclusivity. All organizations, especially those associated with the public sector, must adhere to BITV, promoting a comprehensive and systematic approach to accessibility.
The consequences of non-compliance are significant, ranging from substantial fines to damage to brand reputation. Establishing an arbitration service under the BGG allows resolving conflicts between individuals with disabilities and non-compliant organizations. As we progress, prioritizing accessibility in digital spaces aligns with legal obligations and fosters a more inclusive and user-friendly online environment for everyone. The BITV catalyzes positive change, driving organizations to embrace accessibility as a fundamental aspect of their digital presence.

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Editors:

Debangku Sarma

Digital Marketing Associate
Continual Engine

Vijayshree Vethantham

Senior Vice-President, Growth & Strategy
Continual Engine US LLC

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