Key Takeaways from Web Accessibility Directive 3rd Anniversary Event Hosted by IAAP and EDF
In the world of digital accessibility, staying ahead is not merely an aspiration; it's imperative. Events, where accessibility professionals convene, play a pivotal role in achieving this goal. On September 21, 2023, The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) and the European Disability Forum (EDF) hosted an event to commemorate the Third Anniversary of the Web Accessibility Directive. We enthusiastically joined the event remotely.
This event served as a gathering point for a diverse range of stakeholders from across the EU. From accessibility experts to end-user representatives, public and private sector players, researchers, and policymakers, it brought together a wide range of perspectives.
While the event's primary focus centered around the Web Accessibility Directive (WAD), the conversations ventured far beyond the confines of legal compliance. Experts delved into the best practices, methodologies, tools, and innovative solutions aimed at enhancing digital accessibility for everyone. The event's agenda featured a range of activities, including presentations, panel discussions, and audience Q&A sessions. In this article, we'll distill the key takeaways from this insightful event.
A quick overview of the legislation
Directive (EU) 2016/2102 on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies, the 'Web Accessibility Directive' or 'WAD', is a European Union (EU) law that came into full effect in June 2021. WAD aims to ensure that websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies are accessible to everyone. It sets standards and requirements for making digital content more usable for individuals with various impairments, such as visual, auditory, or motor disabilities.
Accessibility overlays: be cautious
The event prominently featured discussions about accessibility overlays and widgets, highlighting varying perspectives on their benefits and drawbacks. The key takeaways include concerns about the challenges posed by accessibility overlays, the need for caution regarding false claims about technology, and the importance of differentiating between widgets that enhance user experience and those claiming to fix accessibility entirely.
The panel touched upon EDF and IAAP joint statement on accessibility overlays. Additionally, we've written an article on this topic as well, so be sure to take a look. Link: Why You Should Avoid Using Accessibility Overlays.
Best strategy for implementation
Users favor universally designed websites that cater to everyone without the need for separate accessibility features. The consensus among participants is that accessibility should be incorporated from the beginning in the design and development process, rather than treated as an afterthought.
Experts discussed web accessibility monitoring, emphasizing its positive influence on public sector entities. Here are the key points:
- Monitoring as a catalyst for positive change: Monitoring encourages prioritization of accessibility and fosters demand for training and recruitment.
- Effectiveness of monitoring: Experts emphasized that even when progress seems stagnant, monitoring provides insight into the state of accessibility and serves as a valuable reference point.
- Sharing and learning: Monitoring was seen as a collaborative effort focused on shared learning, with a goal of continuous improvement.
- Simplified monitoring methodology: The discussion explored the idea of standardizing Simplified monitoring methods across European member states for better comparability.
Statements and quality assurance
The discussion centered on the role of accessibility statements and quality assurance in improving digital accessibility. Here are the key points:
- The value of accessibility statements: Accessibility statements were viewed as valuable tools for transparency and accountability, but their effectiveness varied.
- Tracking statement presence: Germany faced challenges with organizations lacking accessibility statements, while the Netherlands took a proactive approach, introducing a dashboard to track statements.
- Understandability of statement: These statements should be clear, understandable, and provide information about accessibility levels and issue resolution deadlines.
- Evaluation and reporting: Quality assurance and certification were deemed critical, with the need for standardized evaluation methods and consistent reporting.
- Addressing accessibility of documentation: Participants highlighted the need for improved accessibility documentation in HTML format. Currently provided as PDFs, these documents face usability issues and pose challenges for translation and referencing.
- The readability of accessibility statements: These statement are often too technical and legalistic. Experts suggested to offer users simplified versions and plain language options.
Challenges in enhancing accessibility
Representatives from different countries discussed challenges in enhancing web accessibility in the public sector. Here are the key points:
- Challenges in communication: They highlighted communication obstacles and the need to address political issues.
- Lack of resources and competence: Some institutions prefer in-depth evaluations over pass/fail assessments. However, some of them, often outsourcing digital projects, struggle to address accessibility violations due to resource limitations.
- Percentage of full compliance: While no specific figures were provided, the discussion revealed that achieving 100% full compliance throughout a platform is challenging. Thus, a continuous improvement is emphasized.
- Limited enforcement power: Convincing executive leadership to prioritize accessibility can be tough, but showcasing real-life user struggles and emphasizing accessibility as part of public infrastructure can be helpful.
- Penalties for non-compliance: The topic of monetary penalties for non-compliance with accessibility standards was also discussed, with seven Member States having such laws but limited application.
Strategies to enhance accessibility
In this segment of the discussion, participants explored strategies to further promote web accessibility and streamline processes for stakeholders.
Seeking user feedback
Experts highlighted that seeking user feedback is one of the most effective methods to improve accessibility. Nevertheless, there are challenges associated with obtaining user feedback. Here panelists explored best practices and the right mindset for addressing these challenges.
Challenges of obtaining user feedback
- Lack of user awareness: Many end users may not be aware of their rights and the importance of providing feedback on web accessibility issues.
- Difficulty in finding feedback mechanisms: Users may struggle to find or access feedback mechanisms on websites, making it less likely for them to report issues.
- Negative past experiences: Users who have had negative experiences with public sector bodies in the past, such as receiving no response or feeling that accessibility was not a priority, may be discouraged from providing feedback in the future.
- Lack of clarity on what to report: Users may be unsure about whether a particular issue qualifies as a web accessibility problem or if it falls under the jurisdiction of the law.
- Hesitation: Accessibility issues are sometimes seen as purely technical matters, and users may not feel confident in explaining problems.
- Overwhelm: It's unrealistic to expect extensive feedback from users when a website or digital service is riddled with accessibility issues. Users are more likely to abandon such sites rather than take the time to provide feedback.
Feedback obtaining practices and mindset
Key points to be aware of when obtaining feedback from users:
- Feedback as a right: Feedback is not just a possibility but a right for users.
- Accessibility in feedback mechanisms: these should be diverse and accessible to all users.
- Feedback as a dialog: Feedback should be viewed as a dialog between users and institution. It's not just a one-time interaction but an ongoing conversation that helps improve accessibility.
- Indispensable resource: Institutions may not be aware of the need for accessibility improvements if they don't receive user feedback. It's a valuable resource for identifying accessibility issues.
- A user-centric approach: Websites and apps should aim to be so accessible and user-friendly that users feel compelled to provide positive feedback.
- User respect: Acknowledge, respond in a timely manner, and prioritize accessibility issues raised by users.
- Compete for the feedback: Actively seek user feedback and compete for it. Users should not feel that they have to provide feedback; it should be a choice.
- Addressing accessibility across the lifecycle: Accessibility efforts should start early in web development and continue throughout the project's lifecycle. This proactive approach ensures that accessibility is not treated as an afterthought but is integrated into the design and development process.
- Engaging users: Users should be actively engaged in the monitoring process, offering insights into what aspects of web accessibility are most critical. Their feedback can help shape priorities and ensure that monitoring and reporting mechanisms align with the actual needs and experiences of individuals with disabilities.
- Encouraging collaboration: Collaboration among public sector bodies, industry stakeholders, and user organizations is essential.
- A fundamental part of culture: Institutions should integrate accessibility into their organizational culture by establishing clear accessibility goals and offering support and training to their staff members.
Training and education
- Mindset and perspective: Organizations must recognize the importance of accessibility and be willing to invest in it. Accessibility should not be seen as merely a regulatory requirement but as a means to improve the quality of their services. Accessibility benefits not only people with disabilities but also the broader public.
- Conformity vs. usability: The panelists stressed the importance of educating stakeholders about the difference between conformity and usability. Acknowledging the benefits of usability and providing real-world examples can help shift the focus from merely conforming to standards to creating genuinely usable and accessible digital experiences.
- Education is crucial: Education plays a pivotal role in advancing accessibility globally. Many organizations lack awareness and knowledge in this area, making educational initiatives vital.
- Value of training: Training is emphasized as a valuable approach to improving accessibility. Rather than solely focusing on testing and auditing, organizations should invest in training their staff to understand and implement accessibility principles effectively.
- Identify knowledge gaps: Organizations should assess their staff's accessibility knowledge to identify gaps. This can be done through assessments to determine where training is most needed.
- Testing vs. training: While testing is essential for identifying accessibility issues, training is the key to preventing these issues from arising in the first place. Investing in training can lead to more sustainable accessibility improvements.
- Holistic approach: Consider adopting a holistic approach to accessibility, which includes maturity models and addresses accessibility at various levels within an organization. This approach can lead to meaningful and lasting change.
Selecting disability groups for user research
Users with disabilities should be part of the development process from the beginning. Their feedback and insights are invaluable in creating more accessible and user-friendly digital products. In this part of the discussion, the topic is selecting disability groups for user research in the context of digital accessibility. Here are the key points made by the speakers:
- Diversity of needs: It's crucial to recognize that people with disabilities have diverse needs and preferences. Therefore, selecting user groups for research should not be solely based on specific disabilities but should consider a broader range of user needs.
- Starting early: When planning user research, it's essential to initiate it early in the development process, rather than waiting until the end of the project
- Visual and cognitive accessibility: User research often prioritizes visual accessibility for users with visual impairments, but there's a growing recognition of the importance of cognitive accessibility. Including users with cognitive disabilities is essential for comprehensive accessibility testing.
- Diverse user pool: Developing a pool of users with diverse disabilities can be valuable for organizations to ensure that a wide range of perspectives are considered.
- Umbrella organizations: Some countries, like Norway, have umbrella organizations that play a role in connecting developers with users who can participate in accessibility projects. Such organizations can help bridge the gap between developers and users with disabilities.
Procurement and accessibility skills
For digital inclusion to succeed, it's crucial for all stakeholders to grasp the fundamentals of accessibility. In this discussion, experts delve into the impactful activities that drive meaningful change. Here are the key points:
- Strategies to address resistance to change: It requires a deep understanding of why stakeholders resist change and designing strategies to address these resistances effectively.
- Engaging procurement department: Showing how accessibility aligns with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals an be instrumental. By positioning accessibility as a means to meet legal and human rights obligations while enhancing productivity, procurement can play a strategic role.
- Capacity building: There's a need to build the capacity of accessibility experts to drive organizational change and governance structures that prioritize accessibility. This includes providing allies with campaigning tools, evidence, and case studies to persuade decision-makers.
- Understanding target audiences: Understanding the perspectives and motivations of key stakeholders such as CEOs, university professors, and software developers is crucial. Tailoring messages and approaches to engage these target audiences effectively is essential.
- Simplifying the request: Making the request clear and straightforward for senior decision-makers. Clearly defining the necessary competencies at the leadership level can facilitate CEOs, COOs, and boards in spearheading accessibility initiatives.
Challenges in addressing accessibility
The panel discussed the complexities of addressing accessibility challenges. Here are the key points:
- Lack of responsibility: Responsibility confusion within organizations, with different departments passing the accessibility responsibility to one another.
- Government frameworks and due diligence: Some organizations trust government procurement frameworks for accessibility but should be more proactive in supplier inspection.
- Certification and routes into accessibility: Experts highlight the need for accessibility certification and integration of requirements into university courses to train future specialists.
- Detailed procurement processes: It is crucial to actively engage in the procurement process, and ask suppliers detailed questions about their accessibility measures, testing, documentation, and tools.
Proactive procurement practices
In this section, experts delve into strategies for proactive supplier engagement. Here are the key points:
- Engaging with suppliers: Experts stress the importance of proactive engagement with suppliers before procurement, promoting open communication, and ensuring information clarity for all, regardless of their expertise in accessibility.
- Accessibility reference group: Having a team of colleagues with disabilities actively engaged in the tendering process offers firsthand insights into accessibility and validates supplier claims.
- Training and education: Developing internal programs covering accessibility, sustainability, security, and more for staff involved in procurement to raise awareness about accessibility's importance in all aspects of procurement.
- Integration of accessibility: Experts stress the importance of early accessibility integration in procurement, including thorough research to understand needs and issues before selecting systems or solutions, recognizing procurement's role in addressing accessibility challenges.
- Sharing knowledge: While initially internal, organizations should aim to share insights and best practices with the wider community, recognizing the importance of collaboration to promote accessibility in procurement.
Raising awareness and developing skills in accessibility
In this panel discussion, the participants address the need to raise awareness and develop skills in web accessibility, particularly focusing on how to engage the younger generation. Here are the key points:
- Changing perceptions of accessibility: We need to change the perception of accessibility from being seen solely as a legal obligation to understanding it as a driver of innovation and a means to improve the user experience for everyone.
- Incorporating accessibility into curricula: We have to incorporate accessibility into education curricula of various fields, such as web development, design, and technology. Accessibility should be presented as a fundamental aspect of good design and development practices.
- Impact and user-centered approach: Highlighting the impact of accessibility on people's lives can make the subject more engaging. Demonstrating that accessible design benefits all users, not just those with disabilities, can make it a more attractive career choice.
- Inclusive design: Emphasizing the concept of inclusive design, where accessibility is considered from the outset, can help promote its adoption.
- Awareness and storytelling: Storytelling can be a powerful tool to convey the importance and benefits of accessibility. Sharing real-world examples and success stories can help make the subject more relatable and appealing.
- Skill development: Skill development in accessibility should be a part of education modules in various fields, from architecture to political science. This ensures that accessibility is considered from different angles and by various professionals.
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