Accessibility on the Internet not only benefits people with temporary or permanent impairments, it also brings tangible economic advantages. The WACA initiative and TÜV AUSTRIA accompany companies, organisations and institutions on the way to making their own websites accessible to everyone without restrictions.
In the Corona pandemic, the internet is of particular importance. Not only is online commerce booming, but learning opportunities, virtual events, apps and streaming options to pass the time within one’s own four walls are also enjoying great popularity. In addition, there is the increased use of the virtual office, the handling of official business online.
Being able to participate fully in internet services on a PC, tablet or smartphone sounds all too natural. “But it is not,” says Werner Rosenberger, project manager of WACA, Web Accessibility Certificate Austria, which was developed by the Hilfsgemeinschaft der Blinden und Sehschwachen Österreichs and other experts. Behind the term stands barrier-free web. And, according to Rosenberger, there are unfortunately enough barriers. “In Austria, we have 1.7 million people with temporary or permanent impairments, two million people cannot read comprehensively, 320,000 people have severe visual impairments. Accessibility on the web is therefore not a marginal issue, but affects a large group of people in our country.” A commitment to removing barriers on the web is therefore not only a social and socio-political imperative, accessibility also brings tangible economic advantages.
What does digital accessibility actually mean? How can people with disabilities use a website? Werner Rosenberger: “People with disabilities use assistive technologies to use online services. The most common are screen readers and these software programmes can read websites aloud but also operate them. It is important here that websites and apps are suitable for these technologies, i.e. that they are correctly programmed, quasi machine-readable. It is also important that they can be operated using a keyboard on the desktop or typing functions on the smartphone. An important element is also colour contrasts, which are important for all users because they are easy on the eye.
Legal obligations for accessibility
With the “European Accessibility Act”, an EU directive on accessibility requirements for products and services came into force in 2019. The directive must be transposed into national law by 28 June 2022 and, with exceptions, must be applied from 28 July 2025. Among other things, the directive obliges member states to make all online commerce accessible. Only micro-enterprises are not covered by this obligation. In addition, there is a separate Web Accessibility Act (WZG) for public institutions. The WZG stipulates that websites must be created in accordance with international accessibility guidelines – the WCAG 2.1 of the W3C, Conformity AA. Werner Rosenberger: “In the future, this should mean that no more people will be excluded from the web, and information and services on the internet will generally be more accessible.”
Certification body TÜV AUSTRIA: neutral, objective, independent
Those who fulfil the WCAG guidelines – and thus the four important principles for accessibility perceptible, operable, comprehensible and robust – receive a WACA certificate in gold, silver or bronze. TÜV AUSTRIA, with its subsidiary TÜV TRUST IT, is the certification body for WACA.
TÜV TRUST IT has been successfully providing expert opinions on information security for its customers for years and is internationally active with testing and certification services. As a neutral, objective and independent partner, the company stands for security and quality. The services are based on recognised standards and proven methods. TÜV TRUST IT participates in standardisation committees, but also develops and publishes its own standards.
Project manager Alexander Zeppelzauer: “As TÜV AUSTRIA, we carry out the quality assurance, follow the auditor’s recommendations, also with spot checks, issue the certificate and then also administer it.”
For Zeppelzauer, robust content for accessible web plays a major role in this. Only it can be reliably interpreted by a wide range of user agents, including assistive technologies. This means that web content should function equally well in an accessible manner on as many different platforms as possible, such as Google Chrome, Internetexplorer, Firefox or mobile apps.
Beyond that, however, there would be further challenges. Alexander Zeppelzauer: “Online shops are often still far too unclearly designed, with missing image descriptions or the possibility of voice control or reading out the content. It is not uncommon for ambiguities to arise when it comes to payment functions.”
Removing online barriers also improves the usability of one’s own website and thus also the Google ranking. Accessible web design is therefore also economically worthwhile and often requires only a small amount of additional effort, Zeppelzauer concludes.