On May 18, 2023, the 12th Global Accessibility Awareness Day will take place. This day is intended to raise international awareness of digital accessibility. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified over 1.1 billion disabled people in the world. This corresponds to approx. 15% of the world’s population. In Switzerland, more than 1.8 million people have some sort of disability, i.e. approx. 20% of the population. These people have only limited or no access at all to services and products on the web.
What kind of obstacles do disabled people face in everyday life and what can be expected from the European Accessibility Act (EAA), which will come into force in 2025? These are the questions we discussed with Werner Hänggi, Accessibility Expert with Adnovum.
Hi Werner, who are you and what is your connection to the topic of accessibility?
My name is Werner Hänggi and I was born blind. Many years ago, I studied Computer Science at the ETH and then worked as a software developer for a long period of time. Today, I am an Accessibility Expert with Adnovum and a member of the User Experience team. Therefore, the topic concerns me on two levels: on the one hand, because of my own disability and, on the other hand, because of my technical knowledge of digital accessibility.
How would you define «digital accessibility»?
To me, it means that everything that is developed digitally these days must be usable by as many people as possible. That can be apps, websites, but also, for example, a coffee machine or a washing machine with a touchscreen. If you want to digitize, then accessibility should also be ensured.
How accessible is the Swiss digital space?
There has been considerable progress in Switzerland in the last five years. The awareness for accessibility has grown and there are more and more offers that are easily accessible. Nevertheless, there is a lot of room for improvement. Numerous online offerings are not yet accessible. It feels bad when, for example, I get stuck in an online store in the middle of the ordering process and can't complete the purchase because the form for entering my shipping address isn’t operable with the screen reader.
In your opinion, what would have to change to motivate companies to increasingly develop accessible services and products?
A big problem is probably that people with disabilities are not noticed. It's underestimated how many people are actually challenged or even excluded by non-accessible digital offerings. We need to approach the problem from different angles: on the one hand, we need to reduce fear of contact with people with disabilities. On the other hand, we need to consistently apply the guidelines and laws that are supposed to ensure that barriers are removed.
In July 2025 the EAA will be enacted. What is it about?
In Europe, there has not yet been any standardized regulation regarding the accessibility of digital offerings. The EAA is intended to make sure that products and services in the EU are accessible and usable for everyone. This includes services such as e-banking and e-commerce, but also products such as computers and ticket machines.
Does the EAA also affect Swiss companies?
Absolutely. If a company wants to offer products and services in the EU that are listed in the EAA, it must also meet the requirements. For the Swiss public sector, the eCH-0059 Accessibility Standard V3.0 applies in addition.
As a person who is slowed down by a lack of accessibility, what would you recommend to businesses?
That they act as quickly as possible and acquire the necessary know-how and knowledge. A first step would be to have the accessibility of an existing product or service tested and reviewed and to initiate the necessary measures to remove any barriers. In certain cases, a complete redevelopment will be required. Then it is particularly advisable to consider accessibility from the start – this keeps costs and effort low.
What would you recommend to people on the topic?
Keep talking about accessibility, be it with your colleagues at work or people in your private environment. You can never ask often enough: Have you ever thought about what a lack of accessibility means for people with disabilities?