5 of 5

31 October 2022

The European Accessibility Act – 5 of 5 Insights

European Accessibility Act transposition in Germany – an overview

Nathalie Koch looks at German implementation of the EAA.

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Nathalie Koch, LL.M. (UC Hastings)

Associate

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What you need to know

On July 22, 2021, the German implementing Act of the Directive (EU) 2019/882 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the accessibility requirements for products and services - (in German “Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz” – BFSG) - was enacted. A year later, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs released the Executive Order transposing the accessibility requirements for products and services under Annex I of the EAA, and this was followed by guidance (only available in German) providing further insights for businesses.

The EAA requirements apply in principle to products placed on the market and services provided to consumers after 28 June 2025. The purpose of this law is to strengthen the rights of people with disabilities to take part in the community with others, and to aim for harmonisation of the EU market by removing and preventing barriers to the free movement of certain accessible products and services.

German Implementation Act

Businesses that are already familiar with the provisions of the EAA will be glad to hear that the BFSG is, according to the government, a 'copy out' implementation of the Directive. This means there will not be any major surprises.

Who is bound by the law?

The BFSG obliges private market players to ensure that their products and services are accessible. It comes into force on 28 June 2025, and applies to manufacturers, importers, retailers and service providers. Very small businesses (with fewer than ten employees and no more than EUR 2 million in annual sales) that provide services are exempt from the BFSG. However, very small businesses that place products on the market are covered.

What does the BFSG apply to?

This law applies to specific products and services which are placed on the market after 28 June 2025. In particular, products such as operating systems, payment and self-service terminals, smart phones, tablets and e-book readers fall within scope. Applicable services are telecommunications services (eg messenger services), passenger transportation services, consumer banking services and all online sales covered by the scope of e-commerce services (see here for more on application to e-commerce).

From 28 June 2025, products and services will have to be accessible which means they can be detected, accessed and used by people with disabilities in the generally accepted manner, without assistance from others. The main principle is to provide access to information via two of three senses, eg hearing, sight and touch. Similar to the EAA, the BFSG only includes abstract requirements; any (technical) specifications are covered by the Executive Order, guidance or technical standards (i.e. EN or DIN/ISO).

What are the key abstract requirements, monitoring obligations and sanctions?

Products on the market will (among other things) require technical documentation, a conformity assessment procedure, a declaration of conformity and a CE marking. Exceptions will apply where compliance would create a disproportionate burden, or could result in a fundamental alteration in the basic nature of the product or service.

The BFSG includes provisions regarding the set-up of a market surveillance authority by each state. These authorities are empowered to check whether a product or service complies with the regulations of the BFSG and the Executive Order (as laid out in Annex I of the Directive). In the event of non-compliance, they may prohibit/restrict the product from being made available on the national market or may require withdrawal of the product from the market. The relevant authority may also take steps to stop non-compliant services.

German consumers and certain associations have the right to file a complaint with the market surveillance authority, triggering an inspection procedure. If the request is denied, the consumer or the association, as representative of the consumer, can file a lawsuit against the administrative decision.

Violations can be sanctioned with fines of up to EUR 100,000. Finally - and of great practical significance - violations of the accessibility requirements and the ancillary obligations are subject to the threat of warnings and cease-and-desist claims from competitors and consumer protection organisations. Such violations represent breaches of market conduct rules that can be enforced by competitors with claims for injunctive relief, removal, disclosure or reimbursement of costs pursuant to Section 3a German Unfair Competition law.

Executive Order

The Executive Order on the BFSG (BFSGV) was enacted on 22 June 2022, and will enter into force on June 28, 2025 alongside the BFSG.

The purpose of the Executive Order

The purpose of the BFSGV is the regulation of specific requirements for the accessibility of products and services that meet the requirements of Annex I of the Directive and relate, in particular, to the accessibility provision of information on products and services, the design of the user interface and functionality in products, additional requirements for certain services and functional performance criteria.

Specific accessibility requirements

The new BFSGV applies to all products and services covered by the BFSG. As a general principle, businesses must observe the state of the art when fulfilling the requirements of the BFSGV. Businesses may only deviate from this principle if the requirements of this regulation are met to the same extent in another way. For this purpose, the federal department for accessibility will periodically publish lists on its website of relevant accessibility standards, tables with relevant conformity requirements and further information on relevant standards. 

Additionally, the regulation includes the following general requirements:

  • requirements for the provision of information for products
  • requirements for product packaging and instructions
  • requirements for the design of the user interface and functionality of products
  • additional (sector-specific) requirements for products (eg self-service terminals, e-book readers, interactive self-service terminals used for telecommunication services and audiovisual media services) and services (telecommunication services, passenger transportation services, consumer banking services, e-books and e-commerce services).

Guidance published by German public authorities

To provide assistance for businesses, the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has prepared guidance (only available in German) on the BFSG and the BFSGV. The guidance includes answers to many questions about the law, such as whether a business falls within the scope of the law or what can happen if a business does not comply with the accessibility requirements. It uses practical examples. In particular, this document is a valuable aid for smaller businesses caught by the EAA.

Ahead of the game

Some Member State transposition of the EAA is lagging behind, despite the deadlines involved.  Germany has, in many ways, set a benchmark for transposition, but for the EAA to be effective and achieve its aims, it needs to be implemented across the EU.

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