Web accessibility is the cake, not the cherry on top

Making sure that everyone – both with and without disabilities – can view public information digitally, is primarily a moral duty. That is in the opinion of Robin Muilwijk and Fernand van Olphen, functional application managers at the municipality of The Hague. “Accessibility should already be considered when designing the website.”

Why web accessibility?

In the Netherlands, we want public facilities to be accessible to all citizens. Not only does that apply to, for example, buildings and public transport, but also to digital facilities such as websites and apps. Web accessibility has therefore been mandatory for (semi) government organizations since 2008. A statement on their websites should show to what extent they comply with the accessibility guidelines. Logius, the digital government service of The Netherlands, manages these guidelines.

 

The European Union has specified that member states must lay down web accessibility in national legislation. In the Netherlands, the obligation will therefore be gradually carried over to legislation in 2018. From then on, internal websites (intranets and extranets) and mobile applications should also comply with the guidelines. The accessibility statements will also carry more weight. The municipality of The Hague is already anticipating this legal obligation. Below provides a glimpse behind the scenes.

 

From unknown to a key ingredient

The municipality of The Hague has significantly improved the accessibility of its website. Muilwijk and Van Olphen explain how they have achieved this. “Our current website was launched in 2009. At that time, we didn’t really know a lot about accessibility. We had the accessibility of the website tested on a regular basis and we learned a lot from that. For example, that you have to take into account colour contrast, keyboard usage or the use of a screen reader that converts information into audio. Since then, we have trained our editors in these requirements. And when developing new functionalities, we always keep accessibility in mind. Our online specialists are an important link with the workplace and they make sure that everyone considers the guidelines for website accessibility.”

 

Solutions for stumbling blocks

PDF files sometimes cause problems. “A PDF is easy to produce, but many people forget that PDFs also contain tables and images. If they don’t comply with the accessibility requirements, they are of no use to some website visitors,” Muilwijk and Van Olphen say. “The multimedia team has developed templates which already include the accessibility requirements and the editors will also take a critical look whether a PDF really is needed.”

 

Suppliers of standard applications can be another stumbling block. “You can’t always avoid buying standard applications, for example, for government documents. But despite the mandatory requirement in the contract and the promises of suppliers, in reality applications often don’t fulfill all accessibility requirements. Designers often find a focus indication for keyboard usage unsightly, so that will sometimes be missing. But this means that a keyboard user no longer knows where he or she is on the page, which has its consequences. It takes time for these types of requirements to become part of the ‘DNA’ of suppliers.”

 

Take accessibility into account from the very start

Although the website has already become much more accessible than in 2009, the municipality of The Hague still believes that it is time for a new website. “And this time, we will take accessibility into account from the very start when designing the website”, Muilwijk and Van Olphen say. “You can’t just add accessibility later on. It isn’t the cherry on top, accessibility is the cake itself. The new website will also be tested by people with disabilities, which enables us to make the required adjustments in good time. This has to be the most accessible website that has ever been created! At least, which we have been involved in.”

 

More information

Would you like to know more about web accessibility? Read more at http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/standards/accessibility/index_en.htm or https://www.digitoegankelijk.nl (only in Dutch).

Elise Nabbe, Logius (Netherlands)