By Mischa Andrews
How different would your life be if you couldn’t use the internet? Now? Five years from now? Further into the future?
For most of us, a future without the internet isn’t a future we’d like to imagine – especially with the world’s digital trajectory. This is why lawmakers are working to ensure the web becomes and remains accessible to everyone.
Just as we see accessibility options in the physical world – ramps and lifts and braille and audio loops and more – we, as digital creators and curators, have a responsibility to access.
Let’s take a look at the accessibility laws in Sweden and what they mean for us as digital creators and communicators.
The Discrimination Act 2008 is the key piece of legislation. It aims to prevent discrimination whether direct, indirect, or due to inadequate accessibility. It covers discrimination on a number of different grounds, but here we’ll be focusing on discrimination against people with disabilities.
If you’re a decisionmaker for digital policies in your workplace, it’s worth reading the Discrimination Act. It will help you understand your obligations and provide useful background for communicating with others who may be unaware of the legal requirements.
For everyone else, it’s best to assume that the Act applies to you, especially if you are in a large organisation or you provide public services. If it does apply to you, then you are required to law to ensure your digital products and services (websites, web content, apps, online systems, and so on) are accessible to people with disabilities.
As with many laws, the Discrimination Act 2008 is broad and doesn’t tell you exactly what to do – just that you need to do it. We’ll return to what this means in practice later on.
It’s also worth noting that the law doesn’t just apply to external websites. Discrimination is prohibited against employees, which means intranets and other digital systems (like your finance system, timesheet system, and so on) probably need to be accessible too.
If your company or organisation has already looked through the Discrimination Act and decided that it doesn’t apply, it’s worth looking again. The Act was updated in 2015 to include "inadequate accessibility" as a form of discrimination.
In October 2016, a directive on web and mobile app accessibility was ratified by the European Union. The EU Directive 2016/2102, which we’ll call the Directive, should begin to come into effect by late 2018.
Broadly speaking, this probably won’t change what needs to be made accessible in Sweden. The Directive is largely aimed at public sector bodies, which are probably already covered by the Discrimination Act.
What is interesting is that the Directive is more specific than the Discrimination Act. It will set a minimum standard which we expect will be the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.
There are other requirements as well, like a requirement for accessibility statements on public sector websites; the addition of feedback channels; and the introduction of more monitoring and reporting. The Directive also aims to drive a stronger knowledge base and community for web accessibility across the EU.
Additional rules and guidelines
The Discrimination Act and the Directive are the two key pieces of legislation now in Sweden, but here are some other documents and guidelines that may be useful if you’re building a case for accessibility within a large organisation.
- European Accessibility Act
- UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
- EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
- European Disability Strategy 2010-2020
- EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020
- Digital Agenda for Europe
- EU study on best practices for ICT procurement
- Rolling Plan for ICT Standardisation 2017
If you’re aware of another report or framework relevant to Sweden’s web accessibility, let us know and we’ll add it to the list.
What this all means
For most websites and apps, accessibility is the law in Sweden. As the Directive comes into force, laws will become more specific and new requirements will be applied.
But we still haven’t looked at the question: what do you do to ensure your website is accessible? How do you avoid creating a website or app that discriminates?
Based on what we’ve learnt from legal cases across the world, there are two pillars of accessibility. First, there’s compliance – some kind of standard to strive for as a baseline. We think the Directive will prescribe WCAG 2.0 Level AA, though that’s likely to evolve over time, and there will be some extra requirements (like an accessibility statement and a channel for feedback).
It’s worth familiarising yourself with WCAG if you’re involved in creating websites or web content.
The second pillar is how accessible your website really is for people with disabilities – essentially, usability for disabled people. A website that follows WCAG can still be very difficult to use. And, since the Discrimination Act does not specifically mention WCAG as its requirement, this real-world accessibility is likely to have a legal standing too.
The best method to meet these two pillars – compliance and usability – is with a range of testing methods. This should include automated testing, screen reader testing (with as many screen readers as you can), keyboard testing, colour contrast testing, and testing with disabled users.
We’ll soon publish another post that will help you get started with testing methods. Until then, you can check out the excellent resources at WebAIM. And if accessibility is entirely new to you, we suggest you start with the ten top tips we’ve written for web publishers, managers and content creators.
Ultimately, this is about human rights – it’s about access. Even if it weren’t the law, it’s work that’s well worth doing.