Germany is the first European Union (EU) country we’re covering in this series. EU members are bound not only to their own national laws, but also to the laws ascribed by the greater EU. In most instances, EU laws have equal force with national laws.
In 2011, all EU members signed the United Nations’ (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which sets minimum standards for ensuring disability rights. As signatories, EU members are committed to protecting the rights of the disabled as noted in the text of the UN’s Convention, which specifically references promoting access to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet (an article focusing on the greater EU’s web accessibility efforts is forthcoming).
Many EU member states have gone even further and set their own legislation and standards for web accessibility. Today, we will be focusing on Germany’s efforts.
In 2013, some 10 million individuals in Germany were officially recognized as having some form of disability. This roughly translates into one in eight inhabitants. Germany has taken a proactive approach to serving its disabled citizens by enacting the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons of 2002.
This Act aims to establish equal opportunities and access to content covered by public law. The basis of the Act is the belief that “No people shall be disadvantaged because of disability.” Later in 2002, the German government issued an ordinance for the creation of Barrier-Free Information Technology (BITV).
Barrier-Free Information Technology
The BITV aims to ensure that all individuals, including those with disabilities, have access to all online content and services offered by German institutions. The ordinance applies to websites and webpages that are publicly accessible, and stated that all sites must be accessible by December 31, 2005.
In December 2006, Franz Thonnes, a high ranking official in the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, announced that the BITV will be revised to align with the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Although the BITV applies only to German federal government websites, the government has encouraged state and local agencies, as well as commercial websites, to follow suit.
While still in its infancy, these measures have laid a solid foundation to incorporate the web into all matters of life for German citizens. Forward-thinking and practical, Germany has implemented standards to try and ensure an inclusive society for its disabled citizens.