Why is accessibility compulsory?
As part of its efforts to eliminate discrimination based on disability, the Australian Government passed this Act in 1992. The Disability Discrimination Act – the DDA – extends protection from discrimination to those with disabilities, and to close associates of those with disabilities. These include relatives, friends, caregivers, coworkers, and close associates of people with disabilities. This law is in effect in both the private and public sectors and is overseen by Australia’s Attorney General and Human Rights Commission.
Although the DDA is not limited to web content, it is readily applicable to web accessibility. Later on, when Australia rolled out its Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, the DDA undoubtedly helped inform that strategy. Since this strategy is based on Version 2.0 of the WCAG, it helped the Australian Government bring its web accessibility to Level AA conformance. Though the DDA is the responsibility of higher agencies, the web component is overseen by the Government’s Digital Transformation Agency.
This organization is the one immediately responsible for reviewing and setting the standards for Australia’s web accessibility. Though their site goes into more specific details, the principles used to set standards are in line with the principles of the WCAG. In summary, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 has provided an excellent cornerstone for Australia to build its web accessibility policy upon.
In keeping with the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act, this policy reflects the Australian Government’s effort to make government workplaces more accessible. As a governmental procurement guideline, this is not applicable to the general public and is not limited to web content. This guideline’s chief aim is to make ICT goods and services purchased by the Australian Government more accessible to all employees.
Specifically, the policy covers all video-based, 2-way audio-based, hardware, software, and web-based ICT products, along with any support services. Any procurement process must ensure that ICT products can be utilized by all employees, regardless of any physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities they may have. Inspired by several of Australia’s allies, the Standard echoes the European Standard—EN 301 549. This puts it in step with US Section 508, as well as Version 2.0 of the WCAG. In terms of practicality, the Standard does not require all prior ICT goods and services to be replaced, as the majority are already compliant with several accessibility guidelines.
The Standard’s main application is when ICT goods and services require renewal or replacement, or when any coordinated procurements must be renewed. This Standard is not a definitive procurement guideline and should be applied in tandem with Australia’s existing procurement guidelines. As with the European Standard, the Australian Standard includes conformance Level AA of WCAG Version 2.0.
Under the authority of its Attorney General and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Government put forward the Human Rights Act in 1985. Intended as a panacea against discriminatory practices, the Act enhances existing laws to allow all citizens to pursue the lives they wish free of discrimination or bias. The Human Rights Act is an extensive piece of legislature in that it encompasses proscriptions against many discriminatory practices.
It also covers related matters, such as investigative procedures in suspected cases of discrimination, and sets out the establishment and conduct of human rights tribunals. Although the Act is an effective policy, it does not specifically target web accessibility. As it was created before the propagation of the Internet—and thus, before the W3C—it was not drafted with the WCAG in mind. As it was written, the Act allows that accessibility standards may be written, but little more than that. The Human Rights Act does lay the foundation for web accessibility policy, but it does not expressly define it.
Since the Act is in effect for both the private and public sector, this allows organizations in both domains to draft their own web accessibility doctrine. Though the writers of the Human Rights Act could not have foreseen the dissemination of web-based technology, their work allows others to make it accessible to all.
In 2016, the Canadian Treasury Board, in response to the proliferation of dramatic changes in communications, enacted the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity. This policy sets out how the Government is to communicate with the public. In other words, under this policy, the Government must communicate objectively, plainly, clearly, factually, and in non-partisan terms.
The Policy also allows for increased use of web-based technology in communicating with the public. It is this latter point that is of note; in order to properly enable public communications, the message must be accessible by all citizenry. This requirement prompted the Treasury Board to include accessibility principles in its policy. Through Canada’s own Standard on Web Accessibility, this Policy requires governmental communications – and all related technology – to meet Level AA conformance under the WCAG 2.0. If one reads the Policy, one will find it stated in Paragraph 6.3.5 that all publications on request must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Despite not being focused on web accessibility, this Policy provides a good framework for future web accessibility policy to be built upon. Furthermore, the Policy requires the Government to communicate with the public in ways that all citizens can understand, in whichever official language they prefer. Clearly, this shows that the spirit of accessibility is present, if not the letter.
Though the need for web accessibility policy would be years away, in 1990 the People’s Republic of China laid a solid foundation for future policy. China’s Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, amended as recently as 2008, addresses both public and private sector concerns. As with many blanket legislative pieces, the Law clearly sets out its intent to give disabled citizens equal participation in daily life and opportunities in work.
It goes on to define what is considered a disability and states outright that the government shall provide special assistance in alleviating any barriers to daily functioning. The Law also expressly outlines the responsibilities of government, society, and social support organizations in assisting disabled citizens. Despite not being written with web accessibility in mind, the Law’s wording leaves plenty of room for web accessibility principles to work. In Chapter II, Article 17 – Appliances, the Law mandates the development and production of equipment that alleviates disabled people’s difficulties.
It is fairly easy for any savvy policy maker to use this as a basis for web accessibility legislation. In a similar note, the articles outlining employment opportunities and training can provide further arguments in favor of web accessibility laws. Even without the W3C and the WCAG, this Law would grant any organization the framework to devise their own accessibility policy, if need be.
Keeping in line with the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, China set out their own Web Accessibility Standard. Overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, this policy was likely part of the amendment to the Law in 2008. Unlike its parent legislation, the Standard is a web-specific document and applies to governmental organizations. Though the Standard is in line with the WCAG, it should be noted that it was based on a 2008 derivative of WCAG Version 2.0.
This minor anachronism hardly impacts the Standard in a negative way; even a quick review will show that it is in keeping with W3C principles. For instance, the Standard includes sections outlining natural language, text alternatives, requirements for video content, just to name a few. The Standard also includes levels of accessibility for websites, as well as a minimum level of accessibility that sites must achieve.
Additional sections go into greater detail, translating accessibility principles into achievable goals for any organization to set. This way, the Standard sets out a clear roadmap to full web accessibility. Though it was intended as a recommendation, this Standard was undoubtedly a sound one that would benefit any web-focused organization. It was remarked earlier that the Law on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities set the foundation for web accessibility. It is now clear that the Web Accessibility Standard builds upon that foundation quite well.
Like most nations across the globe, Denmark was similarly quick to see the need for web accessibility policy and responded accordingly. In 2007, the Danish Government enacted the Agreement on the Use of Open Standards for Software in the Public Sector. Overseen by the Digitalization Agency of Denmark’s Ministry of Finance, this mandatory policy is limited only to web-based content in the public domain. Specifically, the intent of this Agreement is to apply web accessibility principles to the acquisition, development, and operation of public-domain websites.
Since it is based on Version 2.0 of the WCAG, organizations in conformance with the Agreement should be compliant with WCAG Level AA. From a procurement standpoint, incorporating accessibility principles into the Agreement is a logical step. Since accessibility makes for better web content overall—for all users—enforcing it at the procurement and development level translates to immediate benefits. This way, users enjoy improved web-based products and services, while the organizations reap the maintenance savings.
Applying accessibility principles to the Agreement also helped the Government demonstrate its commitment to inclusion and its social responsibilities. Furthermore, the inclusion of accessibility principles undoubtedly helped foster greater innovation in Danish web development and research, allowing developers to sidestep many problems altogether. If organizations or other nations were curious as to how to develop and implement web accessibility policy, Denmark’s example would be a good one to follow.
Riding the wave of increasing web-based and mobile-based activity, the European Union realized, as many have, that the need for improved web accessibility was a very real one. Thus, in 2016, the Union enacted its Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive, in its effort to provide guidance to its members on the matter. In a nutshell, the scope of the Directive encompasses the websites and mobile apps of the public sector domain. Under the Directive, member states are required to make these web resources more accessible to their citizens.
The Directive also lays out the requirements for monitoring and reporting on websites and apps under its authority. In terms of conformance, the Directive is based largely upon WCAG Version 2.0, and thus brings compliant members to Level AA conformance. For the purposes of content type, however, there are a few key differences. For web-based content only, the Directive follows WCAG 2.0 to the letter. With non-web-based documentation and software, the criteria for WCAG 2.0 Level AA are to be interpreted through WCAG2ICT.
In either case, the Directive gives sufficiently detailed direction on how the appropriate accessibility level can be achieved and covers requirements from the general level to the most specific cases. Although not perfect, the Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive has been a good reference point for all members of the European Union to gauge the accessibility of their web-based resources.
Although the European Union’s Web and Mobile Accessibility Directive would be an effective policy for a single nation, the nature of the EU poses additional complications. Since the EU comprises numerous member states—each with differing cultural, political, and economic nuances—applying a single blanket policy is more complicated than with one state. To address this, the EU has drafted and proposed the European Accessibility Act, which will be overseen by the European Commission, if ratified and accepted.
In keeping with both the Directive and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Act aims to provide an accessibility benchmark for all EU members. Although the Act was based on a derivative of the WCAG Version 2.0, its true aim is to both interpret and expand W3C principles. Since member states may be viewing accessibility guidelines through different lenses, the Act intends to give a definitive version of these rules, thus clarifying matters.
Furthermore, rather than being limited to web-based resources, the Act will encompass all aspects of both the private and public sectors. Given the intended scope—defining accessibility for multiple nation states—it is understandable that the Act has not yet been accepted and enacted. Regardless, if and when the European Accessibility Act is ratified and brought into full effect, it may stand unique among accessibility legislation, as the first accessibility policy to span multiple countries.
The European Union’s Directive 2016/2012, also known as the Web Accessibility Directive, states that all websites created after September 23, 2018, must be made accessible to people with disabilities before September 23, 2019. For those who already have existing websites, they must be updated to be accessible to people with disabilities before September 23, 2020. For those who have mobile applications, they must be updated to be accessible to those with disabilities before June 23, 2021.
This applies to all public sector bodies that operate any sort of website or application. The Directive states that all member states must monitor and report on the accessibility of websites and applications belonging to public bodies. European standard EN 301 549, which is quite similar to the WCAG with a lot of overlap, will be used throughout reviews to ensure those websites and applications are up-to-par.
The Directive defines accessibility as ensuring websites and applications are “perceivable, operable, and usable” for people with disabilities; however, it also states that websites and applications must be “robust” enough to work on a range of browsers and with various assistive technologies.
Those that fail to comply will risk fines and other legal complications as a result of non-compliance. In addition, they will face a significant amount of negative publicity and consumer backlash due to their inability to be inclusive to all members of society, including those with disabilities.
To clarify their position on electronic communications, in 2003, Finland enacted its Act on Electronic Services and Communication in the Public Sector. The day-to-day oversight of the Act is handled by Finland’s Ministries of the Interior and of Justice, as well as the Public Administration Advisory Board for Information Management. Since the Act covers only governmental resources, this type of tripartite oversight is a reasonable approach.
As this piece of legislation was introduced relatively early in the digital age, it is not limited to web-based content and did not refer to any version of the WCAG. A quick review of the Act will easily reveal that it was never intended as any kind of accessibility policy. The only section of the Act that references accessibility – even vaguely – is in. Here, one will read that “[The] authorities shall aim to use equipment and software which is technically as compatible and, from their customers’ point of view, as user-friendly as possible.”
Although this statement alludes to the spirit of web accessibility, it is too vague to be considered a statement on accessibility. Again, this is understandable, as the Act was written early in the digital age, but it is key to realize that this Act alone is not acceptable from an accessibility viewpoint. Lawmakers must understand that accessibility law demands explicit, detailed guidelines.
As part of a comprehensive effort, in 2005 the French Government enacted Law No 2005-102 on Equal Rights and Opportunities, Participation and Citizenship of Persons with Disabilities. The Law covers multiple areas of concern to people with disabilities, such as Research, Access to Care, and Education, to name a handful. That said, it is Article 47 of the Law that is key to consider from a web accessibility point of view. This is because Article 47 lays out what must be accessible to citizens with disabilities.
Here, it is stated outright that all online public communication services must be accessible to disabled citizens. It goes on to state that all online information relayed by these services, regardless of the means of access, must be similarly accessible. Article 47 also states that the services in question must draft and submit a multi-year plan to make their services sufficiently accessible. Furthermore, Article 47 decrees that those services who do not comply may face penalties of up to 5000 Euros.
These sanctions are reapplied for each year that a service is in violation. Finally, Article 47 refers to another decree that outlines the training methods that these services must make use of. Although Article 47 does not go into specific detail, its existence paves the way for future legislation to build upon it, and thus set the path to accessibility more clearly.
Although Article 47 of Law No 2005-102 gives a good foundation for web accessibility, from a viewpoint of practicality and implementation, it is rather sparse. To address this difficulty, the French Government enacted an Order on 29 April 2015 to serve as a supplement to the Law. This Order serves as a general accessibility framework for all web content used in the public sector.
Under the supervision of the French Ministry of Social Affairs, this accessibility law derives from Version 2.0 of the WCAG, which also limits its application only to web resources. The Order, at its core, acts as a reference system for Article 47, providing a number of accessibility fixes to organizations that the Law applies to. The framework of the Order covers the technical, ergonomic, organization, and semantic factors that affect web accessibility, and illustrate how each might hamper citizens with disabilities. The Order goes on to outline the rules that cover each factor, and how each ensures that disabled citizens can access digital resources online. In addition, this framework illustrates how differing digital technologies are to be handled under the auspices of Article 47.
Finally, the Order details the control mechanisms to verify compliance with the Law, and how these controls are to be implemented. With Article 47 of the Law as a basic premise, this Order gives an excellent guideline for achieving web accessibility in a reasonable time frame.
As part of its ongoing efforts to regulate the propagation of digital technology and web content, the French Government enacted Law No 2016-1321 in 2016. Aimed at the establishment and regulation of a Digital Republic, this Law lies under the jurisdiction of several Ministries, led by the Secretary of State for Digital and Innovation. Since it affects both the private and public sectors, the Law is overseen by the Education, Economy, Social Affairs, Justice, Work, Interior, Housing and Cultural Ministries.
Although it is concerned with digital governance, the Law is not solely focused upon web content, and does not draw from any version of the WCAG. As part of its legislation, the Law partially amends Article 47 of Law No 2005-102. Since it is a blanket policy, the Law concerns with a number of additional matters. These include the economics of data, such as open access, general interest, and knowledge economy. More importantly, the Law includes provisions and modifications on the protections of online rights.
Matters such as net neutrality, portability, data retrieval, and platform loyalty are encompassed by this. Furthermore, the Law updates policy on digital privacy and related protections of personal information. Though the Law is not solely concerned with accessibility, it is an important addendum to existing accessibility law.
As part of its overall efforts to protect disabled citizens, in 2002 the German Government enacted the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons. Overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, this law applies to both public and private sectors. Since it was enacted quite early in the digital age, the Act was not specifically drafted with W3C principles in mind.
Without any version of the WCAG informing it, the Act is more of a broad-spectrum non-discrimination law, though it does set a foundation for web accessibility policy. Under its provisions, the Act outlines the responsibilities of those that oversee it. The Act also includes a section covering those that may be disadvantaged due to disability. Of special interest from an accessibility viewpoint is Section 2a, which covers barrier-free information technology, as well as Section 3, which outlines the agency for accessibility.
Though the Act sets out the basic premise for accessibility, it does not include a specific framework for implementing web accessibility. Again, this is to be expected, since the Act was drafted early in the propagation of digital technology. Regardless, the aforementioned sections show the spirit of web accessibility principles and offer a solid foundation for future legislation. With the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons as a baseline, the German Government is in an excellent position to expand their web accessibility policy in the future.
To accompany the Act on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons, in 2011 the German Government enacted a web-oriented piece of companion legislation. This Federal Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology, overseen by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, is focused solely on online resources within the German Government. Inspired by Version 2.0 of the WCAG, the Ordinance utilizes much of the same language—almost verbatim. In this policy document, the standards required for web accessibility are laid out, line by line and term by term.
The Ordinance specifies the rules that must apply to make web content of all types fully accessible to disabled citizens. These include non-text content, audio and video files, captions, text alternatives, and described audio, among others. The Ordinance’s detail goes even further, outlining rules for colors, image size, font graphics and text size. The Ordinance elaborates on-site aspects that are not immediately related to a site’s content. These can include site navigation, alternate access paths, descriptions, and even the website title.
Even hardware specifications, such as the keyboard, are included in the Ordinance. Of particularly important note is its section describing content that may trigger epileptic seizures. This point is especially important for site owners. With the Act as a guiding hand, and the Ordinance serving as a firm blueprint for executing accessibility, the German Government seems to have accessibility policy well in hands.
In order to streamline its lines of communication, in 1999 the Hong Kong government set out its Guidelines on Dissemination of Information through Government Websites. Under the authority of the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, this policy, as implied, affects only governmental resources. Based on Version 2.0 of the WCAG, the Guidelines impart Level AA conformance on those in compliance with them. Although the Guidelines set clear rules for web content accessibility, they apply to non-web-based resources, as well.
From a strictly web-focused perspective, the most relevant section would be Part VII, Ensuring Content Accessibility. Here is where we see the influence of WCAG 2.0 quite clearly. In this section, the Guidelines lay out numerous accessibility issues that citizens with disabilities encounter. The Guidelines go on to explain the key principles of accessibility: that content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. The policy then elaborates on the finer points of each, and what must be done to achieve them.
Though the Guidelines do a good job of setting out the main objectives of accessibility policy, they do not set down a strict framework for achieving them. That said, the Guidelines do make accessibility principles clear enough that any concerned organization could devise their own framework for accessibility. In this way, the Guidelines perform their task in informing relevant organizations about what need be done to achieve web accessibility.
In response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2016 the Indian Government enacted the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. As a non-discrimination law under the authority of India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the Act applies to both the public and private sectors. Since the Act is an overarching legislative policy, it does not strictly apply to web-based content, and thus does not explicitly draw from any version of the WCAG.
That said, the principles of the Act—respect for dignity, full participation, equal opportunity, and accessibility—resonate strongly with the WCAG. The Act specifically lays out the requirements of healthcare, education, employment, and all other aspects of daily life to accommodate citizens with disabilities. Although web-based services are mentioned explicitly only once, the wording of the Act allows any applicable organization to read between the lines.
Furthermore, the Act sets the stage for future legislation to either address web accessibility specifically or to lay out a framework for achieving it within a set timeline. Regardless, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act is a solid piece of legislation that sets the pace for non-discrimination policy in India. With it as a reference, future policymakers could easily set the stage for follow-up legislative works.
Less a legislative tool and more of a job handbook, the Guidelines for Indian Government Websites were developed in 2009. Handed down by the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances, the Guidelines apply to web content directly under government control. Derived from Version 2.0 of the WCAG, the Guidelines are in conformance with WCAG Level A, and thus bring websites up to this level of compliance.
Since they were meant to assist Indian governmental web developers in doing their jobs, the Guidelines do not specifically lay out accessibility principles. Instead, the Guidelines offer a number of links where web developers can check the accessibility compliance of websites on their own initiative. This is a unique approach that offers some advantages, as well as a few drawbacks. Since the Guidelines were drafted in advance of any accessibility legislation, they place the initiative in the hands of web developers. This allows web developers to include accessibility principles early on in web design, where they can have the best effect.
Having said that, the problem with this approach is that, without legislative backing, it is only the initiative of developers that drive accessibility in development. A developer that is willing to take the initiative would certainly review the accessibility links on his own, but if one is less than enthusiastic, this approach will have little effect.
In its ongoing effort to set out accessibility laws, in 2005 the Irish Government passed the Disability Act. As a public sector law, the Act is overseen by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Department of the Taoiseach and Government Information Services. Since the Act does not apply solely to web-based materials, it does not explicitly draw from any version of the WCAG. At a glance, the Disability Act covers multiple facets of disability policy, as well as existing disability law. It empowers government ministers to provide services that address the health, education, and employment needs of Irish citizens with disabilities.
Though the Act covers many of these requirements in sufficient detail, it mentions accessibility only briefly. Furthermore, it does not specifically mention web accessibility at all but leaves web accessibility as an unspoken part of employment considerations. This is potentially problematic; without a clear definition of web accessibility, the onus is placed on individual organizations to establish accessibility policy.
Confounding the issue is the lack of any accessibility framework; the Act contains no guidelines for accessibility milestones, levels of compliance, or proposed sanctions against non-compliant organizations. Once again, this places the burden on individual organizations to set the pace for accessibility incorporation. The Disability Act may be effective as an overall disability legislative work, but from a web accessibility viewpoint, it leaves something to be desired.
Leading up to the Disability Act, the Irish Government passed the Equal Status Act in 2000, though it has been amended from 2000 to 2004. Whereas its successor was concerned with accessibility as an overall issue, the Equal Status Act is focused on non-discrimination law. As part of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, this Act is applied to matters of both the public and private sectors.
Even though the Act takes some heed from Version 2.0 of the WCAG, it does not strictly concern itself with web content. For its stated purpose—outlining and proscribing discriminatory activity – the Act covers considerable ground. From addressing the nature of discrimination, outlining discriminatory practices, and detailing the enforcement required, the Act is extensive in its coverage. In terms of web accessibility policy or guidance, however, it is somewhat sparse. The closest that the Act comes to addressing web accessibility is in Part I, Section 4—Discrimination on Ground of Disability.
While this part of the Act does not outline web accessibility principles, it alludes that failure to make web content accessible could be considered “failure by the provider of a service to do all that is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability.” While this provides a legal premise for accessibility, it does not provide a framework for implementation, which like its successor, places initiative in the hands of organizations.
In parallel to the Equal Status Act, the Irish Government passed two Employment Equality Acts—in 1998 and 2004 respectively—with the 2004 iteration remaining in effect. For the purposes of clarification, we will only be referring to the 2004 version. Like the Equal Status Act, the Employment Equality Act is overseen by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. In addition, the scope of this non-discrimination law encompasses both the public sector and the private sector and does not limit itself to web-related matters.
Unlike the previous Act, however, the Employment Equality Act takes no lead from any version of the WCAG. Furthermore, these Acts are focused on reducing discrimination in the workplace, whereas the Equal Status Act considers discrimination across all facets of society. In this regard, the Act is an exhaustive piece of legislation and covers virtually all aspects of non-discrimination law.
Regrettably, it does not make any specific points to address web accessibility beyond a backhanded reference. Once again, it inevitably falls to the level of individual organizations to devise their own accessibility policies. For good or ill, at this moment, it appears that Irish law at the state level has not explicitly addressed the issues of web accessibility. One can only hope that, in the future, this will be addressed specifically by future legislation.
As part of their own review of existing policy, in 1998 the Israeli Government enacted the Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, which has since been amended. Designed as a non-discrimination blanket legislative document, the Act is aimed at both public and private organizations. Although it does apply to web-based materials and derives from Version 2.0 of the WCAG, it is an expansive policy that covers all facets of daily life.
In terms of web accessibility, any organization in compliance with it will also achieve Level AA conformance with the WCAG. The day-to-day administration of the Act is handled by Israel’s Ministry of Justice, as well as its Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Act, in its extensive coverage, does refer to broad accessibility principles, but it does not specifically apply them directly to web resources. Furthermore, the Act does not provide any guidelines to develop or implement any kind of web accessibility framework.
Sadly, this places the impetus for developing web accessibility policy and implementing it on individual organizations. Depending on the organizations in question, this can be for good or for ill, until national legislation addresses the matter. As far as overall non-discrimination goes, Israel has done good work. In terms of web accessibility, however, there is room to improve.
To update its own accessibility policy, the Italian Government, in 2004, attached a Provision to Law 9. This Provision—the 4th attached to this Law—was in support of disabled citizens’ ability to access information technology-related tools and resources. Under the authority of the AGID—Digital Agency Italy—this accessibility law encompasses the public sector and governmental resources in its scope. The Provision itself is concerned with web-based assets, as well as all IT-related concerns that arise from disabled citizens’ difficulties in accessing them.
In terms of conformance, the Provision adheres to Version 2.0 of the WCAG, and thus imposes Level AA conformance on web assets it applies to. Of note is the fact that the Provision expands on web standards that are already in partial compliance with accessibility principles. These expansions are detailed in reference to several documents: for HTML files, ISO/IEC 15545:2000; ECMA-scripts, ISO/IEC 16262:2002.
Other updates to web-based resources—HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, CSS 1.0, XML, SVG files, and SMIL have additional W3C standards in effect. Naturally, these are provided to organizations that make use of these types of web resources. Though the nature of the Provision makes it a comparatively brief document, it proves an excellent seed-crystal for web accessibility policy. Even without further definitive governmental guidance, it provides sufficient material for organizations to fill in any gaps themselves.
Many times, Japan has often been on the cutting edge of computer-based and IT-related research and development. It thus stands to reason that it would be among the first to set out policy related to the propagation of technology. In 2000, the Japanese Government enacted the Basic Act on the Formation of an Advanced Information and Telecommunications Network Society. As a blanket accessibility law, this Act applies to both the public sector and the private sector.
Of note is the fact that this legislation is intended as strategic guidance; in anticipation of future needs, the Government set the foundation for strategic policy-making. A quick review of the Act will reveal that its articles mandate the goals of a future IT-based society. Article 3 is of special note in that it requires every citizen to benefit from IT-based services. Even without any express guidance from the W3C and the WCAG, the Act requires future policies to take web accessibility principles into consideration.
Since it is a strategic document that covers multiple facets, it does not solely apply to web content. The Act, at its time of drafting, may have been solely forward-thinking, but it easily set the foundation for future policy-makers to draft future accessibility legislation. The Act may not have held actionable accessibility guidelines, but it is a helpful law nonetheless.
In its regular updates to its acquisition policies, the Government of the Netherlands enacted an amendment to its Procurement Law of 2012. Under this Law, the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs oversees all government procurement and acquisitions. Naturally, this is not limited solely to web-related goods and services, though it does encompass them. For the purposes of accessibility, as per the EN 301 549 Standard, web-related resources are to follow the criteria for Level AA conformance to the letter. Non-web-based goods and services must then follow the interpretation laid out by WCAG2ICT.
As with similar procurement laws, incorporating accessibility principles at this level makes good fiscal sense. Using the most accessible web goods will optimize workflow for both disabled and non-disabled employees. In addition, since accessible web products are more cost-effective, their purchase translates to budget savings for any department. Finally, the use of accessible products over their non-accessible counterparts demonstrates governmental commitment to social responsibility.
Although the Law does not explicitly lay out any framework for applying accessibility principles in the workplace, it was never intended to do so. Through its focus on procurement, it helps to apply accessibility principles indirectly by focusing on supplying accessible goods and services. This way, applicable organizations are already close to conformance with Level AA of the WCAG with minimal effort.
Over the course of updating its blanket policy legislation, the Government of the Netherlands enacted an amendment to overall Netherlands Policy in 2016. This Policy is applied to government offices alongside the public sector; specifically, it applies only to web-based resources in both sectors. For the daily applications of this Policy, the Ministry of General Affairs has final authority and responsibility for matters related to its uses.
Of note is the fact that this is a mandatory policy, which derives heavily from WCAG Version 2.0. As with the Procurement Law, it is the EN 301 549 Standard that applies to web-based resources. These assets are to follow the criteria for Level AA conformance verbatim. Similarly, non-web-based assets must adopt the interpretation laid out by WCAG2ICT. This is a logical follow-up to the accessibility principles included in the Procurement Law. By setting out explicit web accessibility guidelines, the Government ensures that the relevant organizations do not stray from the implicit conformance fostered by purchases under the Law.
By having implicit and explicit documents related to web accessibility, the Government creates a failsafe, should organizations stray from either one. This two-fold approach to accessibility is an innovative one, and merits consideration by nations still drafting accessibility policy. The methods that the Government of the Netherlands used may be an unorthodox one, but one cannot argue with the results of both accessibility policies.
In 1993, the New Zealand Government enacted its Human Rights Act, which has since been amended several times. For the purpose of clarification, it is the most recently amended Act that will be referred to. As one imagines, it is New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission that oversees the Act, alongside the Ministry of Justice. As a non-discrimination law, the Act encompasses multiple aspects of business in the public sector and private sector beyond simply online resources. Because of this, no version of the WCAG was referred to in drafting this Act.
Overall, the Act contains much of the required sections, such as the establishment of the Commission, the outlining of discrimination and the sanctions imposed, to name only several. Sadly, the Act makes no reference to web accessibility at all in the course of its phrasing. As a result, the establishment of web accessibility policy falls entirely upon the target organizations. The fact that accessibility principles—let alone any type of implementable framework—are absent only confounds the issue, leaving concerned employers without any tools to achieve this.
In terms of addressing human rights and discrimination, this Act is an effective legislative tool for its overall aim. For addressing web accessibility, it falls quite short of solving the issue. If employers need cues on how to address web accessibility, they would best direct their efforts to other pieces of legislation.
Mercifully, the Human Rights Act is not the only resource employers have for devising accessibility policy. Recognizing the need to address the propagation of online content, the New Zealand Government devised a series of Online Practice Guidelines in 2013. Made mandatory under the authority of the Department of Internal Affairs, these Guidelines apply to government offices.
Specifically, they apply only to web assets in government organizations and take heed of the WCAG Version 2.0. As a result, provided that they meet all 5 conformance criteria in the Web Accessibility Standard 1.0, relevant organizations will meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance under these guidelines. As a whole, the Guidelines are much more thorough in application than the Human Rights Act. In addition to defining their overall strategy and action plan which includes prior and planned accessibility reviews, the Guidelines refer to learning resources to help employees familiarize themselves with accessibility principles.
Furthermore, the Guidelines state the products and services that they apply to, as well as any relevant initiatives and news updates one should be aware of. Thanks to the Guidelines, supervisors and employers have a much better framework with which to apply accessibility principles successfully. With a clear path set out, successful implementation is much more likely. Thanks to the Online Practice Guidelines, governmental offices now have a far better chance of successfully achieving Level AA conformance with the WCAG.
In the course of updating their overall design specifications, in 2013 the Norwegian Government enacted new Regulations on universal design of ICT products. Although immediately related to product design, these regulations are technically non-discrimination law affecting the public and private sectors. Since these Regulations apply to the design of all ICT products, they apply to web-based and non-web ICT goods and services. When assessing WCAG conformance, the Regulations make use of Version 2.0 of the WCAG. Despite Norway having a designated Authority for Universal Design of ICT, it falls under the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment for its daily operations.
The Regulations may not affect accessibility practice in the workplace, but they allow for accessibility application at the outset of any workflow. By its very nature, universal design allows for any user to utilize a product to its maximum effect and intended use. By fostering universal design with all its ICT goods and services, the Government allows the implementation of web accessibility principles (and non-web accessibility) on the front end, without any input needed from employers or supervisors.
Through this type of approach, the Norwegian Government can ensure that its web products are WCAG compliant from the outset, while also reaping the social and economic benefits of accessible design. Without having an explicit web accessibility doctrine, Norway lets its design policy create an implicit web accessibility standard.
In 2008, the Republic of Korea drafted and passed its Act on the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities as a blanket non-discrimination law. In its scope, this Act applies to web-based and non-web assets and services within the Republic’s private and public sector workplaces. For its day to day operations, the Act falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
When applied to web resources, the Act derives from the WCAG Version 2.0 to determine conformance with an acceptable level of accessibility. In such cases, the Republic also makes use of its own standard, the Korean Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.1. Inspired by the W3C, these Guidelines align well with Level A of the WCAG 2.0 but also contain additional technical specifications. These specifications lay out how web developers can make websites more accessible to citizens with disabilities. Finally, these Accessibility Guidelines include 12 domestic criteria alongside the WCAG 2.0, thus ensuring the relevant web content is fully accessible.
With this approach alone, the Republic helps ensure that any web-related initiatives proposed by the Act fall in line with the minimum level of WCAG conformance. Simply drafting and passing an Act like this might have been sufficient for some policy-makers, but by devising its own Accessibility Guidelines, the Korean Government gave the Ministry and all applicable organizations a clear and charted path to implementation and success.
Enacted in 2008, the Swedish Government’s Discrimination Act serves as a comprehensive non-discrimination law. As per Chapter 4 of the Act, overall compliance with this legislation falls to the Equality Ombudsman, whose specific duties are expanded on elsewhere in the Act. With regards to the scope of the Act, organizations within both the public sector and the private sector are subject to it. Since the Act is not solely concerned with online content or resources, it does not take guidance from any version of the WCAG. For its own purposes, the Discrimination Act covers key aspects of non-discrimination law, such as basic provisions, legal proceedings, prohibition, and enforcement, to name several.
With regards to web accessibility, however, it does not offer much guidance. The Act does refer to a claim of discrimination on grounds of insufficient accessibility and posits that such a claim may be entitled to compensation. It does not, however, refer to web accessibility, nor does it lay out what constitutes insufficient accessibility to web content. With the onus placed on the supervisor to set web accessibility policy, and on the employee in question to prove his or her case, the Act leaves something to be desired.
The Discrimination Act may be appropriate and effective in terms of other forms of discrimination. If, however, an employee makes a claim based on accessibility, that employee faces a more difficult road than most.
To address existing issues with inequality experienced by its citizens with disabilities, in 2002 the Swiss Government passed an extensive non-discrimination law. Since that time, the Federal Law on the Elimination of Inequalities for Persons with Disabilities has been amended. To clarify matters, this article will speak only to the most recently-amended iteration. As a blanket legislative document, the Law encompasses web-based and non-web-based aspects of public sector and private sector organizations.
When assessing online assets, the Law makes use of the WCAG 2.0 criteria. The day-to-day operations of the Law is overseen by the Federal Office of Justice and the Federal Bureau for the Equality of People with Disabilities. It should be noted that each office has separate branches for French, German, and Italian-speaking citizens. The extent of the Law is sufficient to encompass the definition, proscription, and sanction of discriminatory practice. That said, it is somewhat sparse in laying out the definition of what is required to achieve web accessibility.
Furthermore, it is in need of a framework for applying accessibility principles in a reasonable, achievable time frame. Without clear definitions and a means of implementation, employers are left in the dark about how to achieve accessibility, if they are inclined to try. While the Law is comprehensive in the scope of its reach, the lack of detail on web accessibility puts the onus on employers at the organization level.
With the wave of digital technology spanning the global economy, the Taiwanese Government came to realize that a policy on web accessibility would soon be a necessity. Therefore, in 2017, Taiwan established a second version of its Web Accessibility Guidelines. Made a mandatory policy for all public sector organizations, the Guidelines’ scope is limited solely to online resources. Since the Guidelines are highly relevant to communications technology, their everyday operations fell under the authority of the National Communications Commission.
As part of their conformance assessment criteria, the Guidelines make use of a derivative of Version 2.0 of the WCAG. Employees charged with such assessments also make use of specific Regulations for Issuing Web Accessibility Accreditation badges to the websites of eligible agencies or schools. Another resource available to these employees is a web accessibility checker offered by Freego; this gives newer employees a quick checklist to ensure web content makes the grade.
With these additional resources, employees charged with assessing web content should have little difficulty in determining if sites or resources are sufficiently accessible. The only issue that seems to arise is the fact that the Guidelines do not seem to specify a minimum acceptable level of accessibility. As mentioned earlier, barring contradicting orders, the AA Level is a good target, but this may not always be applicable. Regardless, these Guidelines seem an effective framework for assessing web accessibility.
In 2010, the British Government put forward its Equality Act as part of its non-discrimination legislation. Intended to reduce or eliminate discrimination, the Act encompassed the public sector and the private sector in entirety. For its day-to-day tasking, the Act fell under the responsibility of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Since online resources are included in the Act’s scope, the Act incorporates Version 2.0 of the WCAG into its doctrine where applicable. In its admittedly extensive text—detailing virtually all aspects of discrimination and its proscriptions—the Act does address issues of accessibility. That said, it does not explicitly address insufficient accessibility to web resources.
To compensate, the Act refers to BS 8878, a Code of Practice for Web Accessibility. This standard provides a practical standard for the design or procurement of accessible online goods and services, with no technical specifications listed. This may hamper more technically-minded employees, and the fact that interested parties must purchase it might prove a bother. Regardless, the non-web accessibility examples in the Act should provide a point of reference for supervisors.
Combined with BS 8878, this gives a clear, easily-implemented framework for full web accessibility. On its own, the Act may appear somewhat thin on accessibility principles. With a bit of help and ingenuity, however, it can give clear direction to applicable organizations on how to implement web accessibility principles into any situation.
Initially enacted in 1973, the United States’ Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1998. Of particular interest is Section 508 of that amended legislation. As a combined procurement and accessibility law, the Act is overseen by General Services Administration, the U.S. Access Board, and the Department of Justice. Applied to all governmental procurement and acquisitions, the Act addresses web- and non-web-based goods and services. For web products, Version 2.0 of the WCAG is in effect for determining the level of accessibility present.
Section 508 mandates that all federal agencies must make information technology and web-based products accessible to employees with disabilities. This also applies to all development, procurement, maintenance, and use of this type of technology. Section 508 also empowers the U.S. Access Board to develop Information and Communication Technology standards to be incorporated into procurement practice. As mentioned with other policies and laws, incorporating accessibility standards into basic levels of procurement policy is a sound practice, from a moral, practical, and economic viewpoint.
The increases in product quality and effectiveness, as well as the resultant savings to any budget, make accessibility a good choice for any organization. Given the advances in technology since 1973, and since 1998, updating the Rehabilitation Act was easily the right decision. As a result, since the rapid propagation of digital technology and resources, U.S. procurement law is still in good condition.
Like its counterpart in procurement law, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has since been amended, with the latest change occurring in 2009. Focusing on non-discrimination, this Act applies to both public sector and private sector concerns. For oversight, the Departments of Labor, Justice, and Transportation, the U.S. Access Board, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission all share responsibility in applying the Act. Since it does not focus on web applications, the ACT need not derive from any version of the WCAG.
Like other wide-scope legislative documents, the Act encompasses practically all aspects of non-discrimination law: definitions, regulations, and enforcement to name a few. In that regard, the Act does its job well. When focused solely on web accessibility issues, however, the Act loses it’s a few teeth. In terms of overall accessibility, the Act includes several instances where insufficient accessibility is grounds for discrimination. From these, a savvy supervisor could deduce that web accessibility could pose similar problems. That said, without a framework for web accessibility available, he would have little to go on.
Compounding the problem would be any cases that arise where a genuine case of web accessibility-based discrimination occurs, and sympathetic supervisors cannot frame their employees’ case without guidance. On its own, the Act provides a comprehensive non-discrimination framework. For web accessibility, it is sadly only as smart as the supervisor who reads it.
An earlier amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 was drafted and enacted in 1990, as a means of providing educational opportunities to citizens with disabilities. Because of this, it fell under the authority of the Departments of Education and Justice, who oversees its daily applications. Although it is not as strictly related to web-based content, when web resources are involved, it is Version 1.0 of the WCAG that is made use of.
Under Section 504, no citizen, who is otherwise qualified, shall be denied any federal grants or programs by reason of a disability. These include post-secondary programs, vocational training, and corporate partnerships. Given the potential gravity of any of these, it is crucial that no such eligible citizen be denied, which is why additional Requirements for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology Design were attached to Section 504.
These Requirements elaborate the points of Section 504 in that accessibility issues can constitute discrimination. Furthermore, they outline how such issues can be circumvented. Doubtlessly, these guidelines have been a godsend for many hopefuls, since Section 504’s wording is somewhat lax on how accessibility issues come into play. For countless citizens who would have been denied life-changing benefits, Section 504 has likely made all the difference. And for just as many of these, the Requirements for Accessible E&IT Design have ensured that not a single deserving soul was left behind.
To bring U.S. telecoms legislation into the digital age, the Telecommunications Act was amended to include Section 255. The responsibility of both the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Access Board, this accessibility law applies to both the public sector and the private sector. Since it does not draw from any version of the WCAG, it can be applied to web-based and non-web assets.
Under Section 255, all telecommunications products and services must be made accessible to people with disabilities. Furthermore, where readily achievable, manufacturers must be able to achieve this where “readily achievable,” or when it can be done with minimum difficulty or expense. This law applies to wireless and wired telecoms equipment like phones, products with telecoms capacity as computers, and service-related equipment. To further clarify this, Section 255 includes its own Guidelines, clearly setting out what falls under its purview, and what constitutes “readily achievable” in case of any ambiguity.
Also available are the ICT Standards and Guidelines, which provide additional guidance. This amendment and its related publications are crucial additions to U.S. telecoms law, in that they clearly define how telecoms equipment and technology can and must be adapted to accommodate disabilities. Otherwise, countless decent citizens may have been left out in the cold of the digital age, especially in more recent times. Thanks to a few diligent, nameless lawmakers, everyone, disabled or otherwise, can enjoy the advent of this digital age.