The term “barrier-free” is familiar to many, particularly when referring to buildings, public spaces, workplaces, or means of transport, and it indicates that these areas are accessible to everyone without assistance from others. As digitalization progresses, however, this term is also being used with increasing frequency in the IT world.
People from all walks of life use software products as part of their day-to-day work. These tools are not only becoming more powerful, they are also growing increasingly complex. To allow people with disabilities to share in these developments, a growing need is emerging to build systems that meet high-level accessibility standards.
This sentiment is also shared by lawmakers, who have issued guidelines and laws regarding accessible software design and operation in an effort to further promote inclusion in the workplace.
But just what does barrier-free software actually mean? And why is it so important? What guidelines and laws are in place, and what does an accessible system look like from a practical point of view? Read on to learn the answers to these questions.
1. What is barrier-free software?
In terms of software operation, accessibility means
- that users can operate and use the program to its full extent
- that people with disabilities will not experience any disadvantages, substandard functionality, or other barriers when using the product
2. Why is barrier-free software important?
Accessible software that is integrated seamlessly into the company’s operations ensures equal opportunities for all (potential) employees.
Accessible, barrier-free programs enable all individuals to have access to a job. They are characterized by the fact that their structure, formatting, and coding do not exclude anyone and can be used equally by people with and without disabilities. As such, they are becoming a pivotal tool for implementing our fundamental rights. Article 3 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany states that “no one [...] shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability.”
With that in mind, accessibility represents the challenge of making it possible for everyone to work in the most optimal way possible. This ultimately also serves to the benefit of the company itself. Bringing equality to the work environment fosters the potential of each individual while also encouraging collaboration among the entire staff.
3. Explaining the legal framework: When is software deemed barrier-free or accessible?
The simple answer is that software is considered to be barrier-free if every person can use it without restriction.
But that still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. As a result, there are international guidelines as well as national laws that make the entire matter more concrete.
3.1 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The WCAG is a set of international guidelines for barrier-free web content. They state that “...web content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.”
These general performance criteria have been and continue to be fleshed out in federal legislation.
3.2 The Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act (BGG: Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz)
The German Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities has been in force since 2002. Since 2016, the regulations are no longer limited to software and websites, but also extend to apps. These regulations state:
“The primary provisions of the BGG are the prohibition of discrimination on the part of public authorities and the obligation to ensure accessibility in federal facilities.”
As a consequence, the federal government and public authorities are obliged to exclusively use software that can be used by everyone without any restrictions. At the same time, the law refrains from technical specifications, instead defining the areas of application and the objectives.
A long-held criticism of the BGG is that it only applies to public spaces. It is only applicable to public authorities – in other words, to employees of the federal government and government agencies. For years, the private sector was not legally required to provide accessibility. That is now changing.
3.3 The Act on Strengthening Accessibility (BFSG: Barrierefreiheitsstärkungsgesetz)
This Act transposes the EU’s European Accessibility Act (EAA) into German law.
It came into force in July 2021 and goes a very significant step further than the aforementioned BGG. According to the directive, all products and services must be barrier-free by 2025. This includes both the hardware and the operating software.
For many companies, that entails a radical change. Both physical and digital structures and workflows have to be reconsidered and adapted. Accessibility is simple to think about in theory, but how does it look in real life?
4. The barrier-free software for publishers and associations: Xpublisher
This web-based application is used to create, manage, and publish magazines, journals, books, technical documentation, and other publications in a number of different output formats and channels. All work steps feature both a high level of automation as well as barrier-free operability.
4.1 The user interface
At Xpublisher, a dedicated team of experts ensures the system’s accessibility and usability.
The features listed below are what make Xpublisher stand out as a barrier-free software solution.
Layout and Design
The user interface and the features are designed to be logical, hierarchical, and easy to follow. Additionally, all of the program components are easy to read and have high-contrast colors.
The system can be operated either using a keyboard alone or with an on-screen keyboard. The program also provides for maximum screen magnification. Users can zoom in on the content seamlessly for better viewing.
The program comes equipped with a screen reader that supports audible speech output of the content. If desired, the screen reader can also output the screen content in Braille. This allows blind users or users with severely impaired vision to read the content using a Braille output device.
Graphical elements and images have descriptive text that screen readers can read. The well known alt tags for images on websites are one example of this.
Info: Athough not an exhaustive list, these are the most critical features for barrier-free use. We would be more than happy to provide you with a more detailed look at Xpublisher in a complimentary live demo.
Xpublisher is entirely internet based. Fabasoft Cloud, which has received multiple certifications, provides the underlying platform and infrastructure on which all processes run.
Since October 2019, Fabasoft Cloud has been accredited with the WACA certificate (Web Accessibility Certificate Austria). This makes Fabasoft Cloud one of very few web applications in Europe that meets the stringent requirements for barrier-free web content (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, WCAG 2.1 – AA) in high measure. Recertification was obtained in June 2022.
In addition, the Pfennigparade Foundation awarded Fabasoft Cloud a rating of “Highly Accessible.”
5. Barrier-free software: From theory to practice
The law gives publishers, associations, and businesses until June 28, 2025 to convert to barrier-free systems in order to foster equality for people with disabilities and their inclusion in society and the workplace.
But why wait when the relevant programs are already available today?
With a view to a society based on equal opportunity, all Fabasoft products – including the Xpublisher editorial system – adhere to the rigorous standards of accessibility, making it possible for staff with disabilities to be fully assimilated into the work process.
You can find more information about the range of features and potential applications on our Xpublisher product website.