The internet is not as open and welcoming as many seem to think. There’s a significant population of users who, due to a disability, cannot engage with most content on the internet.
We sat down with Noam Kfir, senior architect and trainer at Sela Group, to discuss Israel’s new accessibility compliance update, and the current state of web accessibility in general.
What is web accessibility and why is it important?
There is an argument over whether the internet is a public good or a purely commercial utility. If it’s a public good, it should be provided equally to everybody as a right, regardless of whether they have disabilities. If it’s a commercial utility, the market should determine who can use it and how, though companies will usually have a vested interest in ensuring wider reach. Accessibility serves both purposes: it equalizes the web and increases reach.
What is the new Israeli accessibility law, and how will it impact internet companies?
Implementing accessibility is challenging, especially for software developers who do not themselves have disabilities or require assistance. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) put together an official recommendation titled “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines”, commonly abbreviated as WCAG, which helps web developers make their sites accessible.
Israeli law requires most public-facing sites and applications implement accessibility according to the W3C’s WCAG specification. This ensures that Israeli accessibility regulations align with international standards and it provides consistent guidelines for programmers.
The new regulations actually took effect a few years ago, but they specify an impending cutoff date: October 25, 2015. Sites and apps that went live before the cutoff date must be accessible by October 2016. New sites and apps that go live after the cutoff date must be accessible right away.
It looks like the next year is going to be a scramble for most Israeli companies to both understand and implement the new accessibility requirements.
What is the current state of internet accessibility–or, how much does the web need to improve to reach the goal of full accessibility for all users?
The current state of internet accessibility is terrible. Roughly 10-20% of internet users have some disability that affects their use of the internet. Counting the number of accessible sites is difficult, but that number is extremely low. In addition, most accessible sites are only partially accessible.
There is reason to think that things are improving. For example, many modern frameworks and libraries, such as Angular, Bootstrap, and others, have started to automatically implement at least some accessibility. It’s not even close to perfect, but it is an improvement.
How aware are web developers of accessibility issues?
The sad truth is that web developers have very little awareness of accessibility issues. The most common motivators for implementation are probably personal necessity and legal requirements. Few companies start implementing accessibility without some external incentive.
How will the new accessibility standards impact content contributors?
For the most part, implementing accessibility is the responsibility of the developer, not the content contributor. One of the goals of proper accessibility is making the same content consumable in different ways.
There are some things content contributors can do to improve the accessibility of their content, such as properly tagging images and using language that is easy for a global audience to understand. The most important thing they can do is demand that the software they use implement accessibility well.
What are some overarching principles of accessible web design?
The WCAG specification is based on The Four Principles of Accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. These principles describe the basic criteria that web content must comply with to be consumable by people with disabilities. Content that fails to do so will be unusable or impossible for them to consume.
You can read more about the four principles and other basic guidelines on
the W3C’s site:
What is Sela doing to prepare for the changes?
Sela has been working with accessibility for years, training professionals, consulting for many enterprises and developing a lot of software. Sela also helps raise awareness for accessibility through its community outreach programs, including Meetups and conferences. The challenge is usually convincing clients that accessibility is necessary, so these changes represent an important step forward for an open web in Israel.