Since 22 December 2016, a European directive on website accessibility has come into force. It concerns all websites and mobile applications of public organisations. In Belgium, this directive has been applied since 23 September 2019 with the aim of making all these sites accessible the following year. The mobile applications of public services then had to comply with it from 22 June 2021.
The aim is to help the 15% of the population who suffer from a visual, hearing, cognitive or motor disability. You read that right: 15%! If you thought this directive has no interest in the private sector, think again! Unless you are prepared to miss out on such an audience... Not yet convinced? Remember that Google's indexing robot is also blind and that Google gives priority to websites that offer a well-organised content architecture and source code that respects standards.
Making a site accessible also means optimising it for search engine optimization.
Accessibility for everyone
The standards are defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - the international organisation that develops standards for the Web - and agree on open formats to ensure better interoperability.
The standards that concern accessibility are combined in the "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines" (WCAG). The updated version of these guidelines can be found under the code name WCAG 2.1
The recommendations focus particularly on the problems experienced in 4 categories of disability:
- SightPerception: web content is made available to the three senses - sight, hearing, and/or touch.
Usability: user interface components, forms and navigation are usable
Comprehensibility: the information and use of the interface is understandable
Robustness: the content can be reliably used by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.: blind, visually impaired, colour blind
- Hearing: deaf, hard of hearing, tinnitus
- Physical: paralysis, tremors, ALS, CMI, chronic pain
- Cognitive: learning difficulties, ADHD, dyslexia, autism,....
The rules are classified into 3 levels: A, AA, AAA. The number of A's represents the gradation. From partial to full accessibility. But also from the easiest to the most complex to implement.
In Belgium, as elsewhere in Europe, the intermediate level has been chosen.
The rules are mainly addressed to technicians and are sometimes a little bit unclear for those not initiated. However, some recommendations are also intended for content managers. In Belgium, the Anysurfer organisation is responsible for popularising the subject and helping the companies concerned to comply with the standards and even to obtain certification.
Things to remember
The recommendations cover 4 major issues:
- Perception: web content is made available to the three senses - sight, hearing, and/or touch.
- Usability: user interface components, forms and navigation are usable
- Comprehensibility: the information and use of the interface is understandable
- Robustness: the content can be reliably used by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
As you will have realised, making a site accessible is also and above all about using good practices to develop a good, optimised, ergonomic, intuitive and robust website.
Unfortunately, the documentation provided by the W3C is dense and intended for experts. But it is important to understand that accessibility is not just a matter for technicians. Accessibility is above all a matter of the organisation and quality of the content of your site.
Indeed, if you are seeking certification or want to get closer to it, you must take it into account at all stages of the publication of content.
Whether it is text, downloadable documents, images or videos, particular attention must be given to them. Some recommendations may be particularly restrictive for your organisation. For example: a descriptive text transcript or audio description must be provided for a pre-recorded video, and each image must include alternative text.
You may have to make design concessions to ensure that people with visual impairments or colour blindness have sufficient contrast and a colour scheme that does not interfere with reading or interpreting the text.
It is also important to ensure that the layout of forms (e.g. a contact form or a simulator) is also optimised, particularly with regard to the transition from one field to another, autocompletion, etc.
As far as call-to-actions are concerned, links (or graphic buttons) that have the same text but different destinations must be easily differentiated from each other, which is not always easy to implement.
Our tools and ou expertise
If you don't know how your site is performing in terms of accessibility, the Belgian Web Accessibility provides a free tool that will allow you to perform an audit in one click.
The W3C also references other tools for the more experienced amongst you.
At WebstanZ, we use a checklist based on recommendations by AnySurfer.
And as we encourage open source, we put our expertise at your disposal. You can download our checklist here!
Tip: If you are working with an external partner for the development and maintenance of your site, you can send them the expected specifications. But don't forget that some of the tasks are your responsibility. An "X" in the 'Clients' column identifies the recommendations that are your responsibility if you want to comply with legal requirements.
If your website is powered by Drupal and you want or need to upgrade it, we can perform a free accessibility audit of your website. If you want to know more about the benefits of accessibility on your SEO