The eternal question of cost
At European level, there is an ongoing discussion about yet another accessibility legislation, that would include the private sector, called the European Accessibility Act. To spread awareness of accessibility, the European Commission arranged a two-day conference in Brussels, February 2-3.
Susanna LaurinTitle: Chief Research and Innovation Officer
The event was not aimed to discuss the law itself, this was made clear in the introduction. Instead, the goal was to present different perspectives and to learn from each other. But, of course, the proposed legislation was the elephant in the room. Opinions differ, as usual.
The participants were representatives from different Member States, Members of the European Parliament and Commissioners, as well as key policymakers from the United States and Canada. User organizations and commercial stakeholders were also invited.
Funka’s assignment this time was to present the business perspective; how accessibility can be a driving force for innovation and the positive opportunities that common accessibility requirements mean for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Users with different abilities showed how important accessibility is in different situations. Many interested speakers shared their research findings, project results and good practice. Judging from reactions, questions and discussions during the days, many participants actually learned something new, which is of course gratifying. It is not always us accessibility geeks reach a new audience.
But is it expensive?
It does not matter how well we and many others argue that accessibility is the right thing, innovative and sexy. The question about money always returns. A law mandating accessibility requirements in a broad perspective is expected to be costly for many, especially smaller companies.
Funka is not a proponent of legislation at any price, because we see negative results of rigid rules in several markets. But it is not the cost, that makes us skeptical. Rather the implementation, since a combination of wise laws and other tools are required for the measures to be successful. That is, however, another discussion, which we have touched upon many times before.
What is being discussed in Brussels right now is how really small companies, so-called micro-enterprises, were to survive if their websites must be accessible. I do not see how the web presence can be the biggest cost for a bakery or a flower shop, so the whole debate seems bit beside the point.
Arguments of balance
Regulations should of course not risk hitting small businesses that are doing the best they can. And there's bureaucracy enough in this world already. So I can somehow understand the spontaneous aversion against new rules.
But sometimes it sounds like the poor entrepreneur would wake up one day and suddenly be forced to million dollar investments. That seems unlikely, given the long transition periods the introduction of new legislation usually have in this area. Exceptions to avoid unreasonable burden will most certainly be included and a gradual improvement while making other updates and re-design should be neither particularly expensive or impossible, considering how the technology continues to get better and better from an accessibility perspective.
I also believe that technology development when it comes to accessibility will go faster now than before. When the European procurement directive starts having an impact, it will mean that the ICT industry will learn to develop accessible systems. Not because the suppliers have a legal obligation themselves, but because purchasers need to meet the requirements of the procurement law. From the suppliers' perspective, it is therefore demand that drives the improvement. It would be expensive - and stupid - to keep both the accessible version for public sector, and a non-accessible version for other clients. In the long term I am sure it will be more easy to choose an accessible solution.
Most of the really small companies probably don’t have their own ICT department. They might use free tools and / or small suppliers for their website. Here, there is obviously a gap: although the big players selling to the public sector offers accessible solutions, this does not have to be the case with open source solutions or the "Local web shop". But until now, the smaller players have often been in the forefront in terms of simplicity and ease of use. If and when it becomes main stream to provide basic accessibility, it should spread quite easily. Just look at how attitudes have changed regarding environmental or gender issues. Even players who are not covered by legislation will be influenced by the norms of society at large.
The alternative costs more
The exact cost of accessibility is difficult to calculate. Many, including ourselves, have tried, but none have really succeeded in producing compelling numbers. That is partly because it is difficult to distinguish between the work on accessibility and other parts of development.
But the opposite perspective also lacks exact numbers. What does it cost not to do anything? Letting parts of the population remain outside of social life, offering special solutions for each group or relying on relatives to line up to help? It would be interesting to look at the alternative cost, from the economic perspective. Proof of individuals who are paying a high price for inaccessibility is clearly shown to us everyday.
I hope that more people start to consider accessibility as an obvious competitive advantage. Then we can all look forward to good and creative solutions. And there will no longer be a need to focus on the price.
Related chronicles by Susanna Laurin
6 May 2019
Sometimes progress is hard to spot if you are in the middle of the whole thing. It might be useful to take a step back and reflect on all the different things going on in our business. The evolution is quite impressive, says Funka's Research and Innovation Officer.
7 February 2019
Funka's CEO Susanna Laurin reports from a debate in the European Parliament and international standardization that deals with the inclusion of elderly in IT development.
29 November 2018
Another year of accessibility work is coming to an end. Funkas’ Susanna Laurin writes about the importance of positive feedback and the need to give appreciation to those who do the right thing.
14 August 2018
Monitoring and possible fines can be a driving force for accessibility. But at the same time, threats can mean that services are taken down. How do we make sure that legislation increases accessibility?
29 May 2018
Funka's Susanna Laurin sees similarities between working with accessibility and taking care of a wooden boat. Both activities require patience and the results can make many people happy.
5 December 2017
The International Day of Disabled Persons keeps us busy in all our markets. This year we contribute to the Inclusion Days program in Berlin, Germany.
8 November 2017
A judicial precedent now allows for a tighter interpretation of the Swedish law on support and services for certain disabled people. This may mean that many people lose their right to personal assistance. Do we really want people to be denied a worthy life on equal terms with others?
12 June 2017
As the sun glistens in the ocean, the birds wake me up in the early mornings and life gets a little easier once sunshine and warm weather turn our latitudes into paradise, a report on digitization makes me even more happy.
6 March 2017
We are always interested in what is going on in our market. When two conferences on accessibility, gaming and assistive technology happens in the same week, the agenda is filling up.
6 January 2017
Two of our very competent consultants have tried their wings with our clients and then chosen to come back to Funka. Naturally, we're very excited and we've asked Oskar and Karin to tell us a little bit about their experiences.
8 December 2016
Funka’s Susanna Laurin ponders what we celebrate on the international day of persons with disabilities. Accessibility seems - more than ever - a moving target.
4 July 2016
Funka’s Susanna Laurin is reporting on an exciting meeting of experts from all over the world, at the US Access Board in Washington.
17 June 2016
The French association for the visually impaired, BrailleNet, arrange an annual conference on digital accessibility. The theme for the 2016 edition was the internet of things. Funka’s own Susanna Laurin is reporting from the conference.
10 March 2016
An unsettling trend is happening in the U.S.: by using legislation as a battering ram lawyers are making money, but inaccessibility persist.
30 November 2015
Susanna Laurin's reflections on the situation for people with disabilities face in the world today.
11 September 2015
Funka’s CEO Susanna Laurin reflects on cultural differences between Spain and Sweden, personal integrity and how badly things can get, even when you try your hardest to do the right thing.
18 June 2015
Funka’s Susanna Laurin considers trends in accessibility and the fact that we no longer have much time to reflect.
18 March 2015
Different safety and technology aspects are being brought up as arguments against e-voting, but these problems must be possible to overcome. Funka's Susanna Laurin takes some time to reflect upon the democratic perspective of e-voting and today's broad lack of accessibility.
29 October 2014
Funka’s Susanna Laurin questions why accessibility and user experience experts are so eager to talk to people with similar opinions. Would it not be better to let different views and opinions meet to bring about change?
19 June 2014
We look back at a hectic period and look forward to even more work. But first of all, we will enjoy the summer holidays.
25 February 2014
Funka’s Susanna Laurin rejoices in the fact that design for all really works in our everyday life.
20 December 2013
Susanna Laurin, Funka, sums up a busy year. A year of continued growth, continued expansion in Norway and a new office in Madrid.
25 October 2013
It is leaning towards legislation on web accessibility in the EU. Funka's Susanna Laurin takes a closer look at what the guidelines that almost everyone is pointing towards actually entail for the users.