The role of web accessibility in digital inclusion

2 May 2016 16:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016.]

Inspired by the WSIS 2015 workshop on the European Internet Inclusion Initiative, the session, moderated by Mr Kim Andreasson (Managing Director, kick-started with the fact that only 10% of EU websites are accessible to people with disabilities. Each of these panellists provided their solutions on how to improve these statistics.

Mr Shadi Abou-Zahra (W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)) stated that we are seeing more and more seamless integration of all media which is critical to web accessibility. Two issues prevail: international standards that are Open Source and raising awareness. He stated that we need to identify the challenges for people with disabilities. More so he argues that the primary aim is awareness and the lack of skills rather than standards. He pointed out that we are all content publishers and we need to be aware of the standards for the tools we use (Authoring tool Access Guidelines  (ATAG); WCAG; and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG); accessibility guidelines for developers to create the tools to make the content accessible).

On the issue of policies, the next panellist Mr Donal Rice (Senior Design Advisor, ICT,  Centre for Excellence in Universal Design Ireland) noted that in developing nations the motivation for accessibility of public websites stems from compliance with Anti-Discrimination rules. Germany, Austria, Malta, Australia, and the USA provide proactive policies that their business community have to follow. He noted that key European Accessibility Legislation was passed in April 2016 on Public Procurement Directives in the EU making it mandatory for all websites to have web accessibility under the European Accessibility Act. He also stressed that it is ‘easy to implement a policy but less easy to monitor it. The performance of the policy will take time.’ He noted a study Measures to Improve Accessibilty of Public Websites in Europe by the Irish National Disability Authority which found that in Germany practical support on country level creates good benefits to implement accessible sites. He also reported that a poor analysis of government websites is common: 50% of technical staff do not gather information on their public websites. In fact, the public service managers want more information on their website performance with regard to the level of accessibility. It would be useful if the data collected were of operational value to the organisation.

The three other panellists provided technical solutions which included a combination of manual and automated tools to crawl public websites and provide critical feedback to the public website managers. Mr Mikael Snaprud (CEO of Tingtun) revealed that not all European countries perform the same. He researched over 1000 websites with the Netherlands having the best results and Cyprus the worst. His firm used 30 types of test tools for a total of 180 million tests. The average score was 82. He also noted that over time, countries have demonstrated improved scores. He shared the link for checking websites or compliance that provides immediate results.

The website checker created by EIII is an Open Source functional tool that provides a benchmark of the errors on a website. Along with Mr Martijn Houtepen (Accessibility Foundation),  Snaprud stressed that the combination of manual and automatic testing is necessary to validate the information. A rule of thumb is that 20% of testing is manual or confirmation.

Mr Fabio Paternò (Research Director, CNR-ISTI)  wrapped up the session with a call for a more flexible approach to web accessibility guidelines since his research says that many tools are obsolete. We need a new generation of automatic tools to be effective. At his institute they have created the Multiguideline Accessibility and Usability Validation Environment (MAUVE).

by Glenn McKnight