The transfer of most meetings, conferences and learning to the online world is a fact. What needs to be worked on now is digital accessibility, to ensure that everyone, regardless of the degree or type of their disability, is able to enjoy the benefits of the online world.
Put simply, it is the set of features for websites and mobile apps that make it easier for people with disabilities to read the content. We are talking here about people who are blind, deaf, partially sighted, with speech disorders, photosensitivity or complex disabilities, as well as the elderly or people with learning difficulties or cognitive limitations.
In Poland, the Act of 4 April 2019 on the digital accessibility of websites and mobile applications of public entities and the Act of 19 July 2019 on ensuring accessibility to people with special needs are in force. Our country also observes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 9 of this Convention deals, among other things, with the prevention of digital exclusion. In 2012, the Convention was ratified by the Polish President, and Poland undertook to provide people with disabilities equal access to information and communication, including technology, as well as devices and services.
In order for a website or mobile app to have the feature of "digital accessibility", it must meet certain criteria that are measurable and specified in the Annex of WCAG 2.1. This document describes four key features of digital accessibility:
Importantly, these requirements also apply to internal sites – such as intranets or extranets. The Act also provides for the obligation to place an accessibility declaration and sets out the rules for monitoring digital accessibility.
The law in force in Poland currently applies mainly to public entities, of which there are over 60,000, with some institutions even running over a dozen different websites. It concerns not only local government offices and institutions, but also non-governmental organisations, especially those that work for the protection and promotion of health, and of people with disabilities or of retirement age. Why is digital accessibility so important? Many official matters can be dealt with only through a personal visit to the institution or via its website. That is why shaping a friendly digital space that is accessible to all is just as important as creating buildings or urban spaces without barriers. Although the Act imposes an obligation on public institutions to have websites with digital accessibility, it is also important that we make sure that the websites, apps and meetings we create are also user-friendly and inclusive, even if we are not required by law to do so.
Accessibility is about providing everyone with the same opportunities, regardless of their level of fitness or limitations. Excluding anyone is not okay, it’s that simple. No one is surprised that most public buildings are equipped with ramps for wheelchairs (or pushchairs and strollers!) and the same thing applies to constructing "structures" online. We should think about others – we may be different, but as people we all have the same rights.
A number of website solutions necessary for people with disabilities can also be useful for other internet users. By ensuring that the text stands out properly against the background, we not only help visually impaired people to read the content, but also the elderly, for example. By adding subtitles to a film, we facilitate access to the video not only for the hearing-impaired, but also for those who are not fluent in Polish. The semantic HTML that enables accessibility improves SEO results, improving our website’s searchability and, therefore, its visibility. By implementing good practices that improve digital accessibility, we also care for the users of our website who use free internet connections. In short – we all benefit from implementing digital inclusion.
Great! Here are the key elements that you need to think about:
Remember that there is no such thing as 100% digital accessibility. It is an ideal that we strive for, but it is also a process. Even if you are not able to meet all the requirements, try to enter into a dialogue with the participants of your events – ask for feedback, ask what you can improve in the future and what improvements the users need. Taking care of digital accessibility is not only a moral obligation but also a sign that you are thinking about all members of society.