Digital accessibility

Online accessibility is crucial for full participation in our society. This ensures that web applications or websites can be used by everyone.

Design & branding Digital Accessibility
15 februari 2023
Koen Hachmang

Making online services and facilities accessible

In a world where it's nearly impossible to keep up without the internet, it's essential that as many people as possible can access online services and facilities. Just like public transportation needs to be accessible to everyone, the same applies to websites and online services. Only then can everyone truly participate fully.

Guidelines for digital accessibility 

That's why guidelines for digital accessibility exist. They're designed to make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the web. They're relevant for every website, especially considering that at least one-quarter of all Dutch citizens have a disability. That's more than 4 million people. Naturally, you want to be accessible to everyone. So, this is something you need to address!

What is a disability? 

A disability refers to conditions such as blindness, low vision, deafness, hard of hearing, motor impairments, low literacy, illiteracy, mild intellectual disability, dyslexia, and color blindness. Additionally, someone may experience temporary limitations due to accidents, surgeries, or illnesses.

All these conditions can make it challenging for individuals to use websites and applications. Some people may require specific tools or assistance programs.

Accessibility isn't just about disabilities 

Approximately 18% of the population is 65 years or older. In an aging society, this percentage will only increase. For instance, the percentage of people over 80 years old has been growing significantly in recent years.

This group doesn't always have a disability but benefits from websites that are easy to understand and reliable. The same goes for children, who are increasingly using the internet, for instance, for schoolwork.

Don't forget search engines 

Consider search engines too: information that isn't visible on a website usually isn't indexed and therefore isn't found. Similarly, websites that only function partially or are restricted to specific browsers and devices are less likely to be indexed. These are also aspects of accessibility. Thus, an accessible website has a broader reach than just its 'own domain'.

By making a website accessible, you place the visitor at the center. It becomes accessible to visitors with or without functional limitations. However, this requires making choices and carefully considering content, which ultimately enhances the website or application.

Feasible and verifiable: WCAG 2.1 

Accessibility is defined by guidelines that websites and apps must adhere to. These are known as WCAG 2.1 and are categorized into 3 levels: A, AA, and the highest, AAA.

Websites of (semi-) government entities must be regularly assessed at levels A and AA. This has been mandatory since 2018 under the Digital Accessibility Act. These sites must also publish an accessibility statement. Because these guidelines are testable and measurable, they're easily communicated to everyone involved in the website.

This applies to websites beyond those of government entities. For example, you can use the guidelines to align goals with designers and developers, and to justify decisions within your organization (and to the public). Certification of your website's accessibility is also possible.

Is an accessible site feasible for my organization? 

In practice, the first two levels of WCAG 2.1 are achievable for most organizations. Many of the guidelines are web 'best practices': they start with design and code that works across all browsers and devices.

Furthermore, attention to color usage, interaction, navigation, and effective content presentation are additional considerations. Designers and developers typically handle the first three, as they possess the specialized knowledge.

The responsibility for making website content accessible and maintaining it often falls on the communication department or web editors. They manage the content and thus play a crucial role in implementing and monitoring guidelines over the long term.

The future: towards an inclusive society 

There are increasing initiatives towards creating an 'inclusive society'. Government legislation plays a significant role here, with European regulations and a UN convention supported by the Netherlands. This trend is becoming more apparent, such as with sign language interpreters at government press conferences.

Websites, and starting next year, apps funded with public money must already comply with accessibility guidelines. It's likely that more organizations will need to comply in the future. Ultimately, accessibility will become the norm across all sectors.

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