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Web Accessibility as a Government Mandate?

Posted by Prasad Krishna at Feb 26, 2010 07:20 AM |
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Is Web accessibility just a Government Mandate? Should private sites be ignored? Wesolowski examines this in light of the steps taken by ictQATAR to make its website accessible to W3C standards, and hopes that Qatar and eventually all other Arab nations will follow suit and make Web accessibility much more of a mandate.

Most web developers know that they should make their websites accessible to persons with disabilities, such as including captions for videos to assist the hearing impaired, designing navigation so it can be done through a keypad as opposed to a mouse and including descriptive captions for the blind. But too often developers choose fancy design over accessibility.  In some countries though, accessibility is no longer an option!

In a recent white paper published by my friends at G3ict (thank you again for taking me to see the Center for the Visually Impaired when I was in Atlanta last June – inspiring!), web accessibility is examined from a policy perspective. The white paper’s editor, Nimita Narasimhan from The Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, examines web accessibility policies in 15 countries and the EU in terms of scope of policies and the type of policy. Scope refers to how comprehensive a policy. Type refers to the level of enforcement in place for the policy, ranging from being only suggested guidelines to legislative mandates.

Not surprisingly, few countries currently have a high scope and high policy enforcement level (see chart below), but more and more countries are adopting guidelines and are trending towards real enforcement. The white paper notes that W3C has already developed comprehensive guidelines for countries to use, but that in countries that do not use a Latin-based language, such as here in the Gulf, the guidelines often need to be customized to fit specific online language needs.

I found it interesting how so many countries are adopting Web accessibility standards, but also how rarely they seem to have any legislative mandate behind them. In many of the countries that do have a legislative mandate, web accessibility is often tied to a broader piece of legislation dealing with persons with disabilities in general. May be this is the way for more countries to go. I also found it interesting how most legislation makes Web accessibility mandatory only for government sites, but ignores any private sites – this seems to me to very much limit the impact.

In Qatar, we are still at the early stages. ictQATAR has made its website accessible to W3C standards and has encouraged other government agencies and organizations to follow suit. This is clearly just a first step and hopefully Qatar and other Arab countries will start to make web accessibility much more of a mandate.

For original article on Digital Qatar