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Speech to text concept vector illustration.

Towards accessibility

Accessibility concerns all of us, but what does it actually mean? Accessibility often refers to the accessibility of websites and mobile services to people with various limitations. Does accessibility, in fact, benefit everyone?

Let’s take a moment to think about a situation where you are on the move and your phone is guiding you to the right place. The sun is shining, and you cannot see anything on the screen. Or, you are in a noisy space and you’d like to watch the video you just received on your phone. The image does not convey all the information, so you’ll inevitably miss something simply for not hearing the sound on the video.

Living for a while with your hand in a sling or cast would also make the normal way of using the phone considerably more difficult.  So, wouldn’t it be nice if someone had already thought about accessibility for you?

Perhaps the above makes us think about the usefulness of accessibility for everyone. It should also be noted that for some of us, limitations are part of everyday life. Such limitations include the above, as well as problems with memory and concentration and difficulty understanding the Finnish language, for example. Particularly in these situations, accessibility really matters and guaranteeing accessible services supports equality.

To ensure that the decision whether to take accessibility into account or not is not left solely to those who produce websites and mobile services, the Digital Services Act, the Act on the Provision of Digital Services, was introduced. The Digital Services Act requires websites and mobile applications to be accessible. It implements the EU Web Accessibility Directive and promotes the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Three steps to meeting the requirements of the act

On a general level, accessibility requirements are met when anyone can use the websites and mobile applications and understand their content. On a more specific level, compliance with the act means meeting the A and AA level criteria of the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These 49 criteria concentrate particularly on the requirement of making the content perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.

The criteria also ensure that the content is accessible with a variety of assistive technologies and despite disabilities. In addition to the WCAG guidelines, the act requires that an accessibility statement be added to the service and an online form made available on the service for users to provide feedback regarding accessibility.

Obligations for the authorities and, in the future, for private individuals

At the moment, the Digital Services Act obliges the authorities, bodies governed by public law as well as organizations and associations whose activities and services are implemented in part (min. 50%) with public funding. In addition, in the private sector, the following also fall within the scope of the law: financial sector operators, insurance companies/associations and identification services, as well as water, energy, postal and transport services when an authority is closely connected to the operation.

The act requires service providers to take responsibility, which means that, e.g., the authorities cannot order the service if it is not accessible. The act applies to both new and old websites and mobile applications. The Digital Services Act will be supplemented by the European Accessibility Act (Directive 2019/882), which extends the accessibility requirements to the private sector even more comprehensibly. Finnish legislation is still evolving in this respect, but in any case, the act that will enter into force in 2022 will apply to online stores and banking services, among others.

Part of everyday activities

In other words, the Digital Services Act currently only obliges certain entities, but in the future, it is likely to oblige all kinds of operators. For this reason, it is worth paying attention to accessibility already at this point. Taking accessibility into account is cheapest and easiest when done at as early a stage as possible.

Taking accessibility into account also enables various uses, improves the user experience for all users and is generally part of high-quality service. Accessibility seems to be a clear trend, and the demand for it is continuously increasing.

To what is more, ensuring accessibility is not exactly rocket science. Accessibility can be taken into account as a natural part of, e.g., the UX design process. Even though good UX design does not guarantee accessibility or vice versa, the two support each other.

Accessibility can be significantly improved with relatively small measures – the greatest difficulty will probably lie in assuming a mindset where accessibility is identified and incorporated into everyday activities. In the public sector, operators are, of course, already being strongly encouraged to do so.

P.S. The supervisory unit for accessibility (Saavutettavuuden valvonnan yksikkö) of the Regional State Administrative Agency takes care of the statutory activities under the Digital Services Act: it instructs and advises, processes the contacts of the citizens and monitors compliance with accessibility requirements. Thus, the realization of accessibility is indeed being monitored, as can be concluded form this item of news by the Regional State Administrative Agency (in Finnish).

Sources: (in Finnish) (in Finnish)

Papunet: Saavutettavuus (in Finnish)

Laurea Journal: Esteettömyysdirektiivi tulee, oletko valmis? (in Finnish)

Heidi Martikainen
UX Designer