Web Accessibility Directive: Norway is facing a choice
How is Norway going to transpose the new EU-regulations on web accessibility when the existing legislation has a broader scope? Funka has participated in the public hearing and written a formal response.
Norway is not part of the European Union, still most EU-legislation is transposed into national regulations, as part of the EEA and EFTA agreements. The current Norwegian legislation on web accessibility covers private as well as public sector and thereby has a broader scope than the upcoming EU-regulations. On the other hand, the Norwegian law is not covering all WCAG 2.0 AA success criteria.
Another difference is that the existing Norwegian legislation covers ”the main solution” (usually a website or an app), where the directive covers websites, intranets, extranets and documents, and also requires the public sector bodies to publish an Accessibility Statement.
Therefore, Norway is facing a choice; either introducing the European Web Accessibility Directive (WAD) as it is, which implies increasing public sector requirements compared with current legislation, but also fragmenting the market because private actors will have lower requirements than the public sector. Or, the requirements for both sectors will be increased, so that the Norwegian legal requirements for all sectors harmonize with the EU's requirements for the public sector.
Dichtomy would be cumbersome
From the user, market and management perspectives, the last option is clearly preferred, and thus it becomes important also politically. It would be frustrating for users if public services are significantly better than commercial services. Users have at least as much a need to use a bank, go to theaters or buy things on the internet as they need to use public services - life is more than just communicating with authorities, which is reflected in the current Norwegian legislation. Furthermore, it will be very time-consuming for Norwegian IT suppliers to manage two different versions of systems and deliveries. In addition, the monitoring will be more complex with two parallel regulations, and since the legislation and/or standards referred to in the law will in all probability be further developed later on, a division will make this even more complex.
One example: To expand the legislation to the intranets is among other things an important step towards an accessible digital work environment. This is of course equally important in public and private sectors. As we saw in our survey ”Digital barriers to employment”, the digital work environment causes discrimination of workers. Some work tasks were not possible for everyone to perform, and in extreme consequence to such a large extent that it was not possible for some of them to keep their job. In other words, accessible digital working environment is an important tool for equality and anti-discrimination, and is also a prerequisite for an inclusive Norway. Funka is therefore strongly in favor of extending the scope of the legislation to both public and private sectors.
Another example in which the EU directive goes further is what WCAG criteria are included. The Norwegian Regulations for accessibility of ICT have some exceptions from WCAG 2.0 AA that the EU Directive covers. The purpose of the exceptions was not to hinder the use of video because of increased costs for providing captions. But the technological development has made it significantly less costly to meet the current WCAG criteria in videos, while at the same time it has become even more important for video producers to create content based on how video is used by users (often with the sound switched off in public surroundings) and how video is presented in social media. This means there is no longer any reason why people with impaired hearing should be excluded from the regulations.
An important objective of the EU directive is harmonization. It would be unfortunate if Norway stood outside the opportunities that the internal market entails. An essential purpose of the directive is to create equal competitive conditions across national borders. Without such harmonization, Norwegian businesses wishing to compete in the European market would have to deal with different rules than at home, which becomes ineffective, with an expense that could easily end up with the customer. Similarly, procurers and purchasers in Norway would endeavor to evaluate offers from foreign actors on the same terms with the Norwegian if the foreigners were initially to relate to another regulatory framework.
Norway can afford to ensure that persons with disabilities get the best chance of a life on equal terms with others. Norway has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the overall strategy around communication and e-services is living by the ambition of providing "a digital first choice". To make that a real choice for everyone, the interfaces of course need to be accessible.