So what progress has been made? In January 2022, EU Member States published their first-ever Web Accessibility Directive – Monitoring Reports assess progress against the web accessibility directive. In addition, Capgemini has piloted large-scale web accessibility assessments under the 2021 e-government benchmark and 2022 (coming soon).
It is clear from the above two elements that EU Member States still have a long way to go to provide inclusive and citizen-centric online experiences for all.
An eGovernment Benchmark pilot study
The eGovernment Benchmark is the European Commission’s annual study on the availability and quality of digital government. It is led by Capgemini, with support from Sogeti, IDC and Politecnico di Milano. The measure covers the 27 EU member states, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. To further complement this analysis, a two-year web accessibility pilot project evaluated over 14,000 e-government websites. By using the ax browser extensionwebsites were rated against 8 of the 50 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) success criteriawhich constitute an important part of European standard supporting the Web Accessibility Directive. The selected criteria give a first impression of the extent to which websites are:
- Perceptiblemeasured by: Alt Text, Color Contrast
- Operablemeasured by: page/document title, link name
- Understandablemeasured by: language attribute, valid language code
- Robustmeasured by: Unique IDs, Masked Aria
Web accessibility is by no means the default
Unfortunately, a large majority (84%) of public sector websites assessed are non-compliant and violate one or more WCAG criteria. Only 16% of websites meet all 8 criteria and meet at least some of the 50 criteria. For these latter websites, follow-up manual assessments are required to verify full compliance.
Websites often achieve only limited compliance with the “perceivable” criterion. This limitation may be due to the fact that alt texts for images are missing and colors lack contrast. This harms all users, especially those with visual impairments. Government websites are slightly more usable, understandable, and robust than they are.
The following provides an overview of compliance with the selected criteria and what is required.
Figure 1. Pass rate by assessed WCAG criteria
Accessibility levels are relatively similar across government domains, such as economic affairs, employment, higher education and justice. In addition, central, regional and local administrations have similar performances, with 17%, 14% and 15% of services meeting the 8 criteria. Differences between countries exist. Above the European trend, around half of websites in Denmark (53%), the Netherlands (44%) and Austria (44%) meet all 8 criteria. These countries show that a structured approach, with the involvement of users, can increase levels of accessibility.
Figure 2. Percentage of websites that meet the 8 assessed criteria (EU27+ countries, in 2020-2021)
From valuable information to firm actions
Ongoing monitoring and reporting activities help us better understand the state of web accessibility in Europe. Member States’ monitoring reports, the eGovernment benchmark and other assessments clearly identify pressing issues. These analyzes show a strong need for more accessible public sector websites. With many administrations facing the same challenges, now is the time to collaborate, integrate and integrate web accessibility. Building on previous efforts, firm action is needed to avoid ad hoc solutions and move towards an accessible and sustainable government that serves us all.
It’s not just a technical change. Sustaining long-term accessibility requires a holistic approach encompassing organizational change as well as technology. Fixing something after it’s broken is not the way to go. Accessibility should be built in from the start of a project and play a role throughout the end-to-end lifecycle of websites and digital channels. This involves continuous and proactive testing, compliant development, and orchestrating the entire organization so that communications, HR, legal, etc. keep accessibility at the forefront of their interaction with citizens.
Of course, it also requires employees across the organization to be trained on the accessibility elements that matter to their respective roles. They need to put themselves in their users’ shoes with an ongoing dialogue between the organization and citizens so that websites and channels can be designed with users’ specific accessibility needs in mind from the outset.
The above aligns with a framework for digital accessibility (test, develop, organise, train) that Capgemini has developed to support public sector bodies across Europe, including ministries in pioneering countries such as -Low. What is clear to us is that unless action is taken quickly and comprehensively, the concept of accessible and inclusive government for all will not translate into practical solutions.
Manager and Digital Government Expert, Capgemini Invent