Accessibility on the Web – Why It Will Become Mandatory for Digital Business by 2025 at the Latest [5 Reading Tips]

Accessibility Reading Tips
Source: Unsplash/Viktor Forgacs

It was a few years ago when the author of this text fell flat on her face. She got her bicycle tyres caught in tram tracks and ended up on the ground. Despite wearing a helmet, she lost an incisor, her face was covered with abrasions and one kneecap and one foot were broken. Ouch.

Initially, this meant using a wheelchair, then crutches – and continuing to study at a time, in a city and at a university where accessibility and digital learning were still unheard of. Fortunately, it also meant not being permanently handicapped and dependent on accessibility. What is it like today? Why is accessibility much more than just step-free access to a public building? What needs to be considered in e-business and what does a European directive have to do with it? Many questions, important questions. We will take a closer look at them – in five easy-to-understand sections followed by five reading tips.

Accessibility: Sooner or Later It Will Affect All of Us

1. What Is Disability and Who Is Affected by It?

Less than two weeks ago, we talked about diversity in the IT industry at the Handelskraft Conference 2022. Diversity has a lot of different facets. Nicola Baumgartner, founder of the tea company Shuyao, showed in her conference keynote, for example, that the inclusion of people with disabilities definitely ensures diversity in the everyday work of a digital business. But how can people with disabilities be included in an increasingly digital world?

The figures on disability are astonishing: Although the wheelchair is the universal symbol of disability, only five per cent of people with a recognised disability worldwide use one – and this despite the fact that around 15 per cent of the world’s population, i.e. around 1 billion people, have a disability! The number of unreported cases is far higher for many reasons.

And to those of you who think »So what, I’m young and I’m fit« – just wait and see! 33 per cent of employees who are currently in their twenties will have to learn to live with a permanent disability before they retire – and they will still have to manage their jobs as well as their everyday lives. Hearing loss, severe cognitive impairment, blindness, motor disabilities – the list is long.

Even many people who are not »officially« disabled have a congenital impairment that makes it difficult for them to find their way in the online world: One out of ten people suffers from red-green colour blindness. For these people, bright red checkout buttons or green website elements that suggest sustainability are always unimpressive and greyish brown.

2. Definition of Accessibility

Section 4 of the Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz, BGG) defines accessibility as follows: »Buildings and other facilities […] shall be barrier-free if they are accessible and usable for disabled persons in the usual way, without particular difficulties and, as a rule, without help from others.«

Do not feel ashamed if you had to read this three times to get the gist: Accessibility is defined as a social dimension in the aforementioned Act. This means that all people, no matter their age and almost regardless of their degree of disability, can live and participate in society in an equal, self-determined and independent manner. At least theoretically. In practice, it is not that easy.

At the same time, the pressure to deal with this issue is increasing – especially for companies in the digital sector. Why? Because a new EU directive will take effect on 28 June 2025 at the latest.

Accessibility Becomes Mandatory – Even on the Web

3. The New Binding EU Directive: The BFSG

It has been in force since August 2021 and will become binding as of 28 June 2025 – the Act to Strengthen Accessibility (Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz, BFSG) based on an EU directive.

2025 – that sounds like it is still quite far off. However, three years is not much time to implement everything implied by the Act to Strengthen Accessibility. This Act will have a particular impact on our daily touchpoints in the digital word. That being said, all market players should take a closer look at accessibility in the run-up to the deadline of July 2025.

With the passage of this Act, private companies will be obliged for the first time to offer products and services, especially digital ones, in an accessible manner. This will have an impact on e-commerce in particular and on web design in general. Here, far-sighted advice is particularly important in order to avoid expensive consequences – as with the GDPR.

4. Accessibility in Digital Business

So how does it work, accessibility on the web? Where are the stairs that not everyone can climb? Even for real professionals, it is not easy to conduct research on this because there are few concrete use cases so far – let alone information in comprehensible language. Everything is very legalistic, very complicated and very detailed as well as woolly.

That is why we are not so much talking about what companies will generally have to keep in mind in order to comply with accessibility standards – we are rather focusing on presenting what user experience design can already do to make customer journeys as inclusive as possible. After all, this not only helps to comply with complex standards, but also opens up new customer segments (remember: one billion people – and this figure is rising).

Accessibility Improves Usability for Everyone

5. Inclusive User Experience Design

Those who want to make their digital business more inclusive must first ask themselves which usability presents which hurdles for which target group: complex page layouts, pixelated content that cannot be enlarged and becomes unreadable, poor contrasts, annoying CAPTCHA images that want to check whether users are human (and train AI in the process), complicated or difficult forms, too many links or navigation elements… this list could be continued.

A UX audit geared towards inclusive design or modern usability can reveal many pain points here and help to improve things in the long term – by the way, this is also guaranteed to bring about some improvements for users without impairments!

Together, you can then develop a strategy to comply with the aforementioned EU directive / the Act to Strengthen Accessibility, meet the corresponding DIN/ISO standards for inclusive design, implement the recommendations of the Web Accessibility Initiative and, for example, make it possible for screen readers to work optimally. This can easily be put into practice as part of a relaunch or migration that has already been planned – our client bofrost*, our first reading tip, shows how it is done!

Our 5 Reading Tips of the Week

Relaunch of the bofrost* Online Shop with Inclusive Design [dotSource]

Why Is Accessibility Important in Web Design? [Bigfork]

Digital Accessibility – How Do We Get It Right? [Diversity and Ability]

Why Digital Accessibility Is Good For Business [Microlink]

Designing a Website with Accessibility in Mind [Logic Design]

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