The Digital Barriers on Norwegian Websites policy aims to create an enhanced user experience across websites among all sectors. Through eliminating barriers such as the need for a keyboard, small text, colors not suitable for color blind people, hard to see links, and other issues with existing websites, the project will create more accessible Internet interaction for the entire general public, and change the digital experience for those with disabilities. The project is based on new regulations for web developers announced in Norway in 2013, and apply to any website accessible by the general public.
Norway has undertaken an effort to create universally designed websites with the aim of an enhanced user experience across all sectors. New regulations for web developers were announced in 2013 to make websites more accessible for people with disabilities, and apply to any site that targets the general public. The rules said, for example, that graphs should use colors that color blind people can see, that the entire website should be accessible via keyboard, and that links should have underlines. Now, The Digital Barriers on Norwegian Websites report follows up on these rules.
The Ministry of Children and Equality, which is responsible for promoting equality and preventing discrimination on the basis of gender, age, sexual orientation, skin colour, ethnicity, religion or disability, brought attention to the need for a universal design across all industries. As the plan affected most areas of society, all ministries became involved. Through coordination across ministries, the project began in 2010 and will be completed by 2019, with a vision for Norway to be completely universally designed by 2025. Specifically on ICT, the government hopes to achieve the following goals:
- All new ICT intended for the general public’s use is to be universally designed as from 2011
- All existing ICT intended for the general public’s use is to be universally designed as from 2021
The goal of increased accessibility for all people is a high priority for the Norwegian government. The Soria Moria Declaration says that the parties in power will prepare an action plan concerning the accessibility of transport, buildings, information, and other important areas of society. The action plan to achieve these goals contains both cross-sectoral and sectoral measures, with an emphasis on cooperation between various administrative stages and levels. To support work on a local level, the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities created a support program. The program is based on experience gained from the “Universal Design as a Municipal Strategy” project carried out by the Ministry of the Environment and local authorities from 2005-2008.
The action plan encompasses 16 ministries, each with their own plans. The government has chosen four areas as priorities, and ICT is one of them. ICT, along with outdoor planning, buildings, and transport, was chosen due to the need stated in status reports and recommendations. ICT is a priority because it touches many areas of daily life, and because it will make it easier for people with disabilities to work.
Not just in Norway: international examples
Norway is not alone in implementing specific policies related to people with disabilities and web access. Many European nations, as well as other seeking member status in the European Union, have recently put similar policies in place. In France, Article 25 of the Projet de Loi Adopte Avec Modifications par le Senat says that all “public communication services on-line state services, local authorities and public institutions that depend on it must be accessible to disabled people.” In Germany, the Federal Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology covers all websites and webpages which are publicly accessible, and issues an ordinance saying the intention of all IT and Internet facilities should be to enable disabled persons. Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland have implemented similar rulings.
Description of target users and groups
The study targeted a wide variety of both public and private websites, to get an overall sense of how far the sectors had gone in achieving universal design. The study evaluated 304 government, entertainment, travel, finance, media, and other websites against the regulations on universal ICT.
Beneficiaries include the population of the general public who has difficulty accessing websites due to visual, hearing, memory, literacy, or other handicaps, as well as those who access websites via their mobile phone and do not have access to navigation tools other than a keyboard.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
In the first check since disability rules were introduced in 2013, DIFI, Norway’s Agency for Public Management and eGovernment, performed a status measurement of universal design on Norwegian websites. The study took place in the autumn of 2014, and examined the universal design of information and communication technology on the websites of 304 public and private sector Norwegian websites. Websites were evaluated on the standard WCAG 2:01 requirements on illustrations, code basis for network solutions, navigation, keyboard navigation, and online forms.
There were several key areas where websites were lacking, including:
- Lack of text equivalents for images and illustrations
- Misuse of links
- Poor contrast
- Poor text color and size
Going forward, the report recommends companies and public bodies implement simple coding changes to create more accessible websites that are in line with the disability rules.
- Text enlargement
- Higher contrast
- Additional links and prompts
- Multiple navigation options such as screen reader or voice navigation
- Text equivalents for images
- Better structured sites
Many of the errors in the report can be easily fixed. With a few simple steps, access can be dramatically improved. Technical solutions include the correct use of text equivalents for images, correct color contrast, correct text size and color, and better site structure. The goal is to make websites as clean and easy to navigate as possible, with an emphasis on respect for the user. These changes will increase availability for those who navigate with a keyboard and use voice over or Braille, as well as the general public who accesses websites via a mobile phone. DIFI will supervise universal design and regulations of information and communication technology, and additional information on how to follow the requirements can be found on the DIFI website.
Main results, benefits and impacts
DIFI performed a status measurement of universal design on Norwegian websites. Overall, the report found that both the private and public sector are behind on universal design. On average, only 51% of possible achievements were reached. The public sector websites were the most accessible, reaching 54% of possible achievements, while the private sector reached 49%.
Of all websites and sectors measured, banking services were the least accessible, and bigger banks scored lower than smaller banks. Media, transport, and travel also scored very low. In media, as in banking, the larger media companies scored lower than smaller media outlets. A small local newspaper scored highest among all media companies investigated. In the travel sector, low scores were mostly due to little access for the visually impaired.
In the public sector, ministry websites were the most accessible for the general public.
Most errors were found in the website’s HTML code base, where there was a lack of text equivalents for images and illustrations. There was also a high rate of link misusage and poor contrast across both the private and public sector.
As a result of these errors, many people find themselves without access to services and information online. People with literacy difficulties, memory and concentration challenges, or those who use Braille or a screen reader are the most affected. Changes will not only affect those with disabilities, but also the general public who has problems accessing websites on mobile devices, or reading certain colored text in bright sunlight.
The report will spur improvement on both public and private sector websites, benefiting all who use the web to access information and services.