American web accessibility standards are often top of mind for most developers, but the United Nations, European Union and many nations have their own laws and policies. Read more about how to develop international accessibility standards in this blog post.
As a web developer, you’re likely familiar with the concept of web accessibility: designing web services or environments for use by people who experience disabilities. Web accessibility allows everyone, including those with disabilities, access to web content and the internet as a whole. With the internet’s increasing importance in so many aspects of life, an accessible web helps people with disabilities participate more actively in society.
While American web accessibility standards are often top of mind for most developers, they aren’t the only standards. The United Nations has its laws and policies, as do the European Union and many of its member countries. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Israel, and other nations have also passed comprehensive regulations. You can find a good list of policies organized by country on this page of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) website.
The most effective way for you as a developer to maximize compliance is to start by observing worldwide regulations, as individual countries tend to base their regulations on global agreements. After this, take into consideration local regulations where the majority of your user base resides. Complying with every single regulation is practically impossible, but it is important to understand and adhere to the most important regulations, both global and local.
Which regulations take priority? In a global context, the best strategy to increase your international accessibility compliance is to understand and follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and Articles 9 and 21 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD). Let’s go through these three specifications one by one.
First is the WCAG, a set of guidelines developed in cooperation with individuals and organizations around the world using the W3C’s process. Its goal is to provide a single common standard for web content accessibility. When properly implemented, the guidelines make your applications and content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all demographics. Most other standards in use by the EU and its member countries already are or will soon be in line with the WCAG 2.0. The Laws and Policies page on the Web Accessibility Initiative website has a list of all countries where the national web accessibility regulations are based on the WCAG. This page has a list of EU countries where the web accessibility legislation has already been ratified. For more detailed information, read the EU directive on making the websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies more accessible.
The second standard that’s important to adhere to is Article 9 on Accessibility from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Most countries have signed, though not ratified, the CPRD. It comes after decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. The document is intended to be a human rights instrument that clarifies and details all the rights granted to persons with disabilities. It identifies situations where persons with disabilities would require allowances to effectively exercise their rights, where their rights have been infringed upon, and where the protection of their rights must be reinforced. Every signatory to the CPRD will eventually develop legislation to support the article’s action items and those of other articles in the convention. From Article 9 specifically, we can identify some action items that apply directly to software accessibility.
For one, it’s vital for your organization to learn about the specific issues that persons with disabilities may encounter when using your software. The article also mandates support for those with disabilities by training your staff on these needs and challenges, sharing this information within your organization, and adapting your product accordingly. Last but not least, Article 9 directs you to start considering accessibility in the early stages of developing your products.
You can further improve your compliance with international accessibility by following another article of the CPRD, this time Article 21 - Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information. Specifically, this regulation mandates that you provide content in different formats promptly and at no extra charge. It also directs you to make your formats accessible by providing text alternatives to audio and visual content and by using open formats whenever possible. In so doing you ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise their right to “seek out, receive, and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others.”
Many countries have more specific web accessibility legislation. Most of the web accessibility laws around the world either reference the WCAG or are based on it. Here is the summary of the legislation in a few English-speaking countries.
The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 has been most recently amended in 2016. The regulations apply both to the public sector and private companies. This law disallows the discrimination on the grounds of disability and applies to many parts of life, including education, employment, and access to information and services. In addition, the government agencies in Australia are now required by the procurement standards to only purchase services and products that comply with the accessibility standards that are used in the EU.
The Standard on Web Accessibility covers all government websites and requires them to comply with the WCAG level AA. The Canadian Human Rights act makes it illegal to deny services, facilities, and products to disabled persons on the grounds of disability. The act also applies to web-based services and products.
Ireland prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability when it comes to products and services in the Equal Status Act of 2000. The Disability Act of 2005 obliges the government bodies to make their services accessible to all.
The Equality Act of 2010 tasks the government agencies in the UK with eliminating discrimination in all parts of life, including access to information. The Disability Discrimination Act from 1995 makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled persons, both for public agencies and private companies in areas like education, employment, and access to facilities and services.
In addition to becoming familiar with these three documents that define international accessibility compliance, the WCAG 2.0 and Articles 9 and 21 of the CPRD, it’s also crucial to inform yourself about local regulations in the top 5 countries where your audience is located, because they may well include mandates not covered at the global level. So how can you go about researching these local regulations?
Start by checking local government websites, and keep an eye out for organizations or agencies whose charters involve technology and inclusivity. Specifically, consider standardization agencies and any ministry or department of technology in the primary countries where your users resides. It’s also a good idea to seek advice from a qualified accessibility consultant in the area in question; they’re bound to have deep, detailed, and accurate insight into the accessibility issues specific to their region.
Another approach is to seek out organizations and events that have a diverse development or design community with whom you can network and inquire about accessibility issues. Don’t forget the possibility of design schools and their course offerings; they might also have ongoing events or information sessions on the topic of accessibility in your own country or region.
Many websites and tools, even those developed recently, have barriers to accessibility that make them difficult or impossible for some people to use. For responsible web developers to lift these barriers, it’s important to consider not only American accessibility standards, which tend to loom largest for many, but also other regulations that exert a lot of influence over accessibility standards worldwide. The UN itself as well as the EU, its member countries, and many others across the world have their own regulations, comprehensive and wide-ranging. Although it’s not feasible to observe every regulation that exists, it’s possible and indeed practical to understand which ones to comply with first, on both global and local levels.
We have created a comprehensive whitepaper on accessibility for developers that covers everything from laws to coding to testing.
Download the whitepaper: Accessibility for Developers
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Learn more about: Kendo UI
Chris Ward explains cool tech to the world. He is a technical writer and blogger. He has crazy projects in progress and will speak to anyone who listens. You can talk to him! :)
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