Web accessibility is a crucial aspect of creating an inclusive online experience for everyone. Yet, despite the growing awareness of accessibility, there are still many businesses and organizations that struggle to understand how to implement accessibility requirements.
To shed some light on this topic, our Director of International Marketing, Jasmine de Guzman, recently gathered three professionals in the field of accessibility to discuss the future of digital accessibility in Europe. In this blog post, we'll dive into the insights shared by the panel lists, and explore the key takeaways that can help organizations improve their digital accessibility efforts.Jasmine was joined by Lars Holm Sørensen, Monsido’s in house accessibility expert, Miriam Nabinger, accessibility consultant and inclusive product designer, as well as Clive Loseby, a global leader in website accessibility.
So, let’s get into what our experts had to say about digital accessibility, the challenges facing those looking for funding, and where it is going next in the European Union and the UK.
Getting Buy-in for Digital Accessibility Investments
A huge issue for those trying to get accessibility funding identified by the panel early on is the persisting lack of awareness about what digital accessibility actually is and why it is so critically important for all online organizations. As Clive put it: ‘‘The most common thing that I find is people not understanding what accessibility actually is. That’s the bottom line.’’
The panel discussed the fact that a level of anxiety often surrounds the subject until people grasp the concept of what website accessibility actually means and its many benefits. The panel uniformly agreed that the subject of website accessibility can be quite intimidating, and difficult to get your head around until you get started on your own journey.Which brings us to the need for more web accessibility education.
Why Education Is Needed
During the discussion, Clive mentioned that the value of web accessibility typically becomes clear once it has been explained without reference to any deep technical details, which can often serve to needlessly intimidate the uninitiated. As Clive put it using his own analogy:
‘‘I drive a car, but I don’t know how to service it. I don’t need to know how to service it.’’
Clive makes a great point here, as when it comes to getting people onboard with web accessibility, the overall concept and core benefits are usually more important, at the end of the day, than dry technical details.
While there has been significant progress in making the web more accessible to people with disabilities in recent years, the panel agreed that there is still a great need for more web accessibility education.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Lack of Awareness: Many people are not aware of the importance of web accessibility or how to design and develop websites that are accessible to everyone. This lack of awareness can lead to inaccessible websites being created and maintained, which can exclude people with disabilities from accessing important information and services.
- Evolving Technology: The web is constantly evolving, and new technologies are being developed all the time. It is important for web developers and designers to stay up-to-date with these changes and understand how they can impact web accessibility. Without ongoing education and training, web professionals may not be able to create accessible websites using the latest tools and technologies.
- Legal Requirements: Many countries have laws and regulations that require websites to be accessible to people with disabilities. However, these laws are often complex and can be difficult to understand and implement without proper education and training.
- Changing Demographics: As the population ages, the number of people with disabilities is likely to increase. It is important for web professionals to be aware of the needs of this demographic and ensure that websites are accessible to them.
It’s clear from our discussion that more web accessibility education is needed to ensure that websites are designed and developed in a way that is accessible to everyone.
The panel then turned their attention onto how to go about securing funding for a new accessibility tool, giving advice based on their own personal experience.
Some Strategies for Getting Support
When discussing how to get support for a new accessibility tool, Miriam pointed out that it is critical to involve as many people as possible as early on as possible, and to ideally include at least one representative from each department. She went on to explain that accessibility is a group effort that simply does not work in a vacuum. To function correctly, it needs to be understood as a process where every department has its own specific responsibilities and part to play.
Lars agreed with what Miriam had to say, going on to state that for accessibility to work it takes almost everyone in an organization to be at least aware of accessibility, as it impacts a website on every level and touches every department within an organization.
Lars also highlighted the particular importance of raising awareness and understanding for those at the very top of the business chain who actually sign the contracts, as ultimately it is they who hold the power to grant or withhold funding. The group then moved their focus to the scope of digital accessibility.
Understanding the Scope of Digital Accessibility
As Lars pointed out during the discussion, web accessibility is not just about making digital products usable for people who are blind or deaf but has a huge impact on the overall success of digital products in several major ways.
First and foremeost, by making digital products accessible, companies can reach a larger audience that includes people with disabilities. People with disabilities represent a significant portion of the population, and by designing products that are accessible to them, companies can tap into this market.
Many of the principles of web accessibility, such as clear navigation and consistent layout, can benefit all users, not just those with disabilities. When digital products and websites are designed with accessibility in mind, they tend to be easier to use for everyone.
In many countries, there are laws and regulations that require websites and digital products to be accessible to people with disabilities. Failure to comply with these laws can result in legal and financial risks for companies. By prioritizing accessibility, companies can demonstrate their commitment to inclusion and diversity, which can enhance their brand reputation and attract more customers.
Our panel uniformly agreed that web accessibility, rather than being an insignificant niche subject of limited importance, is clearly a key factor that can have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of digital products and services. By prioritizing accessibility, companies can reap the rewards of creating online products that are more inclusive and beneficial to all users.
Meeting Europe’s Incoming Accessibility Requirements
As the European Accessibility Act (EAA) deadline of 2025 for meeting accessibility requirements fast approaches, more experts and tools are emerging to help companies achieve compliance. However, the private sector is still far from being in a position to be fully compliant by the deadline. Miriam noted that in Austria, for example, many people are not even aware of the law, let alone how it will impact their organization.
The upcoming EU legislation is seen as a hugely positive development by the panellists, who also noted the impact that the law will have on organizations in the United Kingdom, who will be forced to fall in line with the new regulations if trading with the EU. As Clive noted, the new EU accessibility laws will have a global impact, just like GDPR did before it. "This is brilliant, everybody will fall into line," he commented, emphasizing that the sheer size of the EU as a trading block will ensure that everyone, including the UK, will adopt the new requirements as otherwise, they will miss out on valuable trade.
Clive added that the new EU accessibility laws can also serve to correct some of the data privacy and consent issues that exist with GDPR, particularly when it comes to inaccessible cookie banners, which can have devastating knock-on effects.
By addressing these issues through legislation, it is hoped that the industry will be brought up to speed and accessibility will become a priority for all.n addition to this, on a positive note the panel also mentioned that more and more experts and tools are emerging to help facilitate a more accessible future for EU residents.
Key Takeaways and Advice for Accessibility Beginners
In summary, our conversation with accessibility experts highlighted several key points about the importance of web accessibility education, understanding the scope of digital accessibility, and the challenges associated with meeting accessibility requirements.
To summarize, the panel also offered some advice to accessibility beginners. As Clive advised, "Talk to disabled people. You cannot beat the lived experience of being disabled." Miriam encouraged starting small and making incremental changes that have a big impact, such as checking color contrast or alt text. Lars urged teams to stop overthinking and start acting on accessibility. At the end of the day, companies that prioritize accessibility can benefit from reaching a larger audience, improving usability for everyone, reducing legal and financial risks, and enhancing their brand reputation.
With upcoming legislation, it’s time for organizations to proactively work towards more inclusive websites for all users and ensure compliance ahead of the upcoming European Accessibility Act (EAA)
Want to see the full panel? Check out the LinkedIn Live recording.