New requirements for products and services
On 20 May 2021, Germany’s Federal Parliament adopted a bill for an Accessibility Act (only in German). This Act serves to implement the 2019 EU Directive on accessibility requirements for products and services (PDF) into German law. The purpose of the Act is to strengthen the rights of persons with disabilities to take part in communal life and account for the harmonization of the internal market (§ 1(1) of the Accessibility Act).
Whom and what does the Accessibility Act apply to?
The Act applies to select products and services which are placed on the market after 28 June 2025. These products particularly include operating systems, payment and self-service terminals, smart phones, tablets and e‑book readers (§ 1(2)). The services covered by the Act particularly include telecommunications services (e.g. messenger services), consumer banking services and all online sales, via the definition of e‑commerce services. Micro-enterprises are excluded from the scope of the Act (§ 3(3)).
From this point forward, products and services will have to be accessible, which is the case if they can be found, accessed and used by persons with disabilities in the generally typical manner without particular difficulty and generally without outside help (§ 1(3)), whereby this definition was taken from § 4 of the Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (only in German). As indicated by the legislative intent (PDF only in German), the principle which must be observed is that access to information must be provided via two of the following three senses: hearing, sight and touch. These definitions will be fleshed out by the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which will issue an ordinance defining the precise requirements. The Ministry, for its part, will be required to adhere to the specifications pursuant to Annex I (PDF) of the Directive. The Commission may supplement this Annex by issuing further specifications within the framework of delegated Acts. A draft Ordinance (PDF only in German) has already been published, based primarily on the state of the art.
Requirements, monitoring and penalties
Various requirements will apply to manufacturers, in line with the New Legislative Framework (NLF): placing products on the market will require technical documentation, a conformity assessment procedure, a declaration of conformity and a CE marking. The same applies for importers. Manufacturers may appoint an authorized representative to meet their requirements. Service providers will be required to ensure accessibility. Exceptions will apply for disproportionate burdens, and compliance with the requirements may not result in a fundamental alteration in the basic nature of the product or service. Consumers may notify the market surveillance authorities, triggering an inspection procedure. There is also a right to file representative actions in terms of § 15 of the Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (only in German). Violations may also be penalized as administrative offenses. Accordingly, accessibility will be an internal component of product compliance as of 2025. Companies should therefore take timely action to assess their products accordingly and to create the necessary conditions for product conformity as of 2025, and in their supply chain as wellback