According to entrepreneur.com “Disability rights group Click-Away Pound found that 61% of users with accessibility needs would leave a site and take their business elsewhere if they weren’t properly accommodated — a serious thing for businesses to consider given that disabled individuals spend a combined half a trillion dollars annually.”
The inclusivity of product usage within society is important if we want to enable people to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life. Therefore, policies and legislation must exist in order to ensure that manufacturers, importers and distributors of products pay careful consideration to the design, structure and usability of products when they are intending to place them on the market.
The same applies when proposing or writing policies to improve the extent of the accessibility of products. It is important that utility, usability, accessibility, desirability, affordability, viability and compatibility are all taken into account on this front. For example, legislation that increases the production cost of a product will reduce its sales volume, which reduces viability for the business and therefore limits the potential real-world uptake of their products.
The focus on the above-mentioned aspects of any product means that the best practice from the population-based ethos of inclusive design, governing principles of usability and the definitions of accessibility and usability within ISO 9241 can all come together harmoniously.
The basic structure of the new Accessibility Act Barrierefreiheitsgesetz (BFG) is proposed to be enforced in congruence with the Product Safety Act and was initiated by the European Member state of Germany. The Act is called to apply to all products within the areas of computers, tablets, notebooks, ATMs and ticket machines, mobile phones, routers, televisions, e-book readers and others, which are placed on the market after 28 June 2025.
The key requirements for product manufacturers, importers and distributors following the passing of the bill would involve several requirements to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to use a product they have purchased. Accessibility requirements for each product would need to be defined and authorised prior to being released on the marketplace. This would need to be provided by way of a list of how the product is intended to be used and what features are provided on the device that allow the device to be used via multiple sensory channels (i.e. hearing, touching, seeing, tasting or smelling). These channels must, in essence, allow for people with disabilities to be able to access the device with the offering of alternative display and control methods.
There is also a differentiation between the responsibilities of the manufacturer, importer and distributor of the product. In parallel with the Product Safety Act, accessibility requirements must be complied with, EU Declarations of Conformity must be issued and the products must display the CE mark.
The draft also contains provisions of market surveillance and legal enforcement. The market surveillance authorities of the federal states must check whether the accessibility requirements are met and whether the exception rules are properly used. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in a trade return or state-ordered product recall. There could also be an administrative offence sanctioned with a fine of up to €100,000. Affected consumers may also initiate appropriate market surveillance measures individually or with the help of associations.
While the BFG is still initially in the first draft, the content is essentially already determined under European Law by Directive (EU) 2019/882. No major changes in legal policy are expected, so accessibility will also become part of product compliance in Germany. Manufacturers, importers and distributors within the electronic and technology industries should therefore incorporate the draft at an early stage so that they can identify any deficits in their products with regard to accessibility requirements and improve the supply chain now, rather than later.