Between hope and despair
We see an unusual focus on accessibility issues these days in Europe. In the midst of the heat of the summer, there are two pieces of news that reflect different perspectives on accessibility requirements, with the same starting point: legislation and regulation.
It happens at last! The Norwegian monitoring agency for web accessibility, Difi, imposes fines for Askøy municipality, as they haven’t resolved the insufficient accessibilty on their website within a reasonable period of time - in this case six months. € 1000 a day may not be that much for a municipality, but if the solution is delayed it will not be unnoticed, and above all, it's an important gesture. To violate the law should not be costless. This is the first time Difi imposes fines and the day feels almost historic.
Oh no, it's actually happening! Askøy municipality, which risk fines for insufficient accessibility, removes the service (to apply for preschool) which violates the law. Hopefully only until action has been taken, as holiday times and an external supplier are said to be the reason. Unfortunately, there are examples from other countries where inaccessible interfaces have been removed by the responsible authority when it got attention from the media and / or received a threat of fines. But then the inaccessible service have been published again, in an unchanged condition, when the searchlight moved elsewhere. Let's hope that the Norwegian law works better than that. The municipality has now launched an interim solution so that residents can apply for preschool places anyway.
Who is actually responsible?
So how could that be a problem? If the law exists to make sure nothing unaccessible is published, isn’t that exactly what you achieve with this? Well, yes. However, given how very few interfaces actually meets the requirements for accessibility, there is a great risk that we get an epidemic of services that are being shut down, which hardly favors the citizens. Hopefully, the threat of shutdown contributes to suppliers getting their acts together and actually address the shortcomings. In that case, the methodology works. But that only happens if and when the procurers set clear requirements. The Norwegian law applies since 2013 and it is still very rare to see tender specifications with meaningful requirements for accessibility.
I'm afraid that this would rather help more people to invoke disproportionate burden – claiming that measures for increased accessibility will be unreasonably expensive or that it affects third parties disproportionately hard - and thus find ways to escape the demands.
If you had set the right requirements from the start, it wouldn’t need to be more expensive, but there is no monitoring of accessibility requirements within the procurement regulation in Europe, which means nothing will change until procurers learn what they are expected to do.
There is an ongoing discussion of whether or not accessibility requirements counteract innovation. We at Funka firmly argue that there is no contradiction, but that accessibility rather encourages creative solutions. But, of course, it requires that the demands are made wisely. Right now, we are investing heavily in providing support to our clients in those processes, but there is much left to do.
We may learn with time
It will be exciting to see how Europe's authorities and municipalities act when the Web Accessibility Directive will enter into force this fall. So far, we have seen a lot of interest which is positive, but unfortunately there is also a clear trend towards trying to escape from the regulations, rather than tackling the problems. Perhaps it is a matter of maturity. When accessibility requirements become a natural part of everyday life, it becomes no stranger to follow them than to follow other rules that are perceived as self-evident.
I can’t help thinking about a taxi driver I met many years ago, who drove without having a seat belt on. When he saw a policeman, he rolled out the belt and held it in his hand so it looked as though he had clamped it, and then let it up again. As the saying goes - All methods are good except for the bad ones.
Edit: Shortly after this was written, SAS Norge AS also received fines.