Guiding Best Practice 15 December Dec 2017 1714 15 December 2017

Keyword: Accessibility – why architectural barriers exist even on the internet

If the Internet is a universal infrastructure it must be accessible to everyone – from the visually impaired to people with epilepsy. Scano (Iwa Italia): “For a decade, Italy has been at the forefront of tackling this issue, but there is still a long way to go"

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Opening your browser, searching, choosing your music and enjoying your online content is part of our daily routine. Simple gestures mark our days. But this is not the case for everyone. Think of a visually impaired or deaf person. Those who suffer from epileptic seizures or who have motor disabilities who need to use special keyboards or screen readers. For these people, accessibility defines if content scattered throughout the network is available.

This concept emerged during the Internet boom when it was codified into a set of guidelines established by the W3C consortium (in 1999 and subsequently updated). A site is accessible when any barrier that hinders users, especially those with a disability, from using Internet technology has been removed. It is dealing with a lack of software design that prevents the correct use of the message contained in a web page. But what are the criteria that define accessibility?

Web development company Innpronta’s digital strategist and co-founder Vittorio Fidotta says that a “site must be perceptible, usable, understandable and robust. Each of these points requires attention, information about current and past assistive technologies, and a thorough knowledge of the issues encountered when visiting a site. All this guarantees a similar user experience without curtailing anyone’s enjoyment.”

Iwa Italia president Roberto Scano said: “The father of the Internet Robert Khan's rule is always valid – not developing an accessible web version means not developing the web at all." As a developer and consultant Scano deals with accessibility issues every day. There are many examples - successful or not: “Take the Fs website. A disabled person can be accompanied along the platform and helped onto the train. Until recently this information was not accessible. The case of Alto Adige region is different. Here people with disabilities who want to visit the region can find an accessible site and a quantity of useful information for their stay, i.e. parking for disabled people or the mobility situation." The secret lies in the underlying framework, – the pagination systems developed for accessibility allow you to enlarge a character, improve colour contrast or make written content audible. Fidotta pointed out that poor development in this respect was because creating an accessible site that offers everyone a good and equal user experience requires an economic effort which is probably not worth it when compared to the target percentage.

We always have to consider Robert Khan’s rule: “A site must be perceptible, usable, understandable and robust"

Vittorio Fidotta, digital strategist and co-founder of Innpronta

In Italy, since 2005, the Stanca law defined the accessibility criteria. Scano continued “At that time Italy was already at the forefront of web accessibility because it had imposed the obligation on the public administration to develop accessible sites. In 2016, a European directive went in this direction. In addition to ensuring accessibility, certification is also required. A decade ago the sanctions were ignored due to a lack of monitoring.

Some obstacles remain and relate to the visual rather than written aspect of the various web platforms. A positive example of this is YouTube, which has been rolling out a voice recognition programme that translates its contents into subtitles for deaf people.” Scano continued: “The case of static images is different - a notice uploaded as a pdf, i.e. as an image, cannot be read or translated by auxiliary systems. This is an entirely discriminatory flaw. Especially if we are talking about equal access to public selection processes.”

What about the future? “An open-source CMS, which is not driven by economic interests and designed to be entirely accessible without sacrificing a pleasing and equal user experience is under development. Another but more complex solution might be software that can encode sites that are inaccessible," concluded Fidotta.

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