Why all digital services should be accessible?

Our Senior Designer ponders influence of accessibility thinking to his own designer work. Why your services should also be accessible?

Future-proofing services for a senior version of me

In these trying times, I have had time put aside for assisting my parents in their everyday life. This has made me appreciate services that are intuitive for me but I have found that my parents aren’t as fortunate as me to be partly raised alongside computers and the internet.

As a user interface and graphics designer, this has forced me to introspectively assess whether or not I’m designing services that I could use when I’m a senior citizen.

I would label my style for designing services as optimizing personal time-management and quality of life design mentality. In shorter terms, the services must be functional for everyone.

How I came in contact with accessible design

When I first heard about W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) and accessible design, I knew that this was the path I was meant to take. My journey started as an Assistant Art Director back in 2005 working on marketing materials and different manners of prints. I was involved in a project that required special care when selecting colors, since the user base was predominantly the elderly. Then it was defining larger font sizes, larger line-heights and higher contrast ratios between text and background.

Fast forward to 2012, I just started working at a financial institution and there I found that the requirements were much higher than previously. All of a sudden, I was faced with designing services that not only would have to work for the elderly but also the colorblind and physical disabilities like hand and arm mobility.

It all culminated in 2018 when I was tasked with designing services for government agencies. It was here that I learned that a law was about to be passed that requires public authority, public institutions and also private sector and organizations that are essential to everyday life to be compliant with the EU's accessibility directive.

EU’s directive and the step towards the future

A few years prior, the EU’s EN 301 549 directive “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe” (now that was a mouthful) stated that ICTs play an increasingly important role in the lives of Europeans. In some instances it has become difficult or even impossible to receive an education, gain employment, shop, travel or do a number of other things in the community without using some form of technology. Following the EU’s directive in Finland, the “Act on the provision of digital services” was passed into Finnish law on the 1st of April 2019.

In the EU’s EN 3013 549 directive was listed W3C’s WCAG version 2.0 and a minimum level of AA (The lowest level is A and the highest is AAA). It has, since then, been updated to version 2.1. In the WCAG you’ll find the success criteria for not only web services, but files and media that can be a part of the web service. You’ll find the guidelines here: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

Accessibility affects a quite substantial part of the population

Seniors, handicapped or otherwise disabled individuals make up approximately 30-40% (and rising) of the entire population. Making services more accessible will have a major impact not only their lives, but on everyone's lives since we all benefit from this.

The marathon is on (lot of dates ahead)

The running has begun for making web based services compliant with the accessibility directives. The first deadline was already met back in September of 2019 which includes newer services that were released after the 23rd of September 2018. The next deadline includes all older services and media (older than 23rd of September 2018). This deadline will be reached this year, you guessed it, on the 23rd of September 2020. These first deadlines involve the public sector and government agencies.

The following deadline will include the rest (water- and energy companies, logistics, postal services, insurance and financial services) and that will be reached on the 1st of January 2021. Mobile services need to be compliant on the 23rd of June 2021.

Not to be party-crasher, but there are consequences that have yet to be defined if services are not compliant by these dates.

It has been a frantic sprint (or in my cases, many frantic sprints) to reach the first milestone and improve services to the point that they are compliant.

Closing words

On the road to making services more accessible, I’ve had the privilege to make new friends and I’ve had the opportunity to share my experiences with a wide range of people in many different walks of life.

As a father of two, I do not only want to make services that will work for current seniors, but I also want to make it work for a senior version of myself and for my kids growing up into an increasingly online world of tomorrow.

Jan Vidfält
Senior DesignerJan has years of experience from accessible design in various client projects.

Contact us for more information

Jonas Pomoell
Lifecycle and Online Servicesjonas.pomoell@hiq.fi+358 45 6700 620