Reasons to make digital products accessible

Yesterday I attended NCDT, the Dutch conference for digital accessibility. Hundreds of people whose work somehow involves digitally exposing information gathered in Utrecht.

The interesting thing about NCDT, I found, is that many attendees work in roles that require them to organise accessibility within their organisations, having to convince management and stakeholders of accessibility benefits. As a front-end developer, I usually only have to convince designers and interaction people. Convincing the whole of a company seems lots harder!

Here are some reasons for accessibility that I heard on the day, in no particular order.

Because we ought to put users before egoes

The excellent Gerry “top tasks” McGovern could not have said it clearer in his talk: “we measure production, not consumption. If we want digital excellence, we must measure actual use”. Many organisations put out web pages because some employee made the page and is excited about it. They put out web designs, because the designer made something pretty and the team liked it. They contain web copy that their content marketeers think provides value. But your website should not be about your employees, your designers or your content marketeers, it is about the users and what they want. That’s what websites should invest in, McGovern said. The users on your website should be put before the egoes in your organisation. Therefore: always be user testing.

Because it could be illegal not to

Users who cannot access your website, could potentially sue you. Eric Velleman of the Accessibility Foundation explained how. He showed there are currently a number of Dutch laws and regulations that make it illegal for companies to have an inaccessible website. Important to note: in The Netherlands, no one actually got one of those laws to be applied to them by a judge. In America however, judges have ordered large companies to pay sums of money and/or make their website more accessible.

More legislation is coming: an EU wide Directive is being implemented by EU member states. The Netherlands also recently agreed it will ratify the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The “College voor de rechten van de mens” was appointed as the regulator for this convention, and this will be where people can go to complain if they cannot access a particular site. At this time, it is not clear what the Dutch authorities will do in terms of fines or sentences. It is unlikely, Velleman said, that companies will get sued for inaccessibility.

Because our organisation has embedded inclusive design

Jonathan Hassell talked about embeddding accessibility throughout organisations (he was the main author of BS 8878, the British standard / code of practice on this subject). He said what’s more important than making accessibility checklists mandatory, is valuing accessibility as an organisation. To do this, the top needs to be on board, training needs to be in place (staff might leave), it should be embedded in company policies and it should be in a process that can be used over and over again.

Having accessibility is embedded in all those different ways, can really make it part of an organisation, which can ensure the organisation makes more accessible products, now and later.

Because there is passion for #a11y at the top

Jake Abma, head of accessibility of a major Dutch bank (the orange one) held a talk about how he got support for his radical idea to embrace digital accessibility practices. It was a truly inspiring story. He convinced his manager to get him 2 hours a week to spend on accessibility, this later became 4 hours, a day and even two days. Later others got time too, and currently, the bank has a dedicated accessibility team. They have their own accessibility guidelines (which is a superset of WCAG and other standards), do lots of accessibility testing and have “accessibility champions” across teams. They ensure doing the accessible thing is part of their process (in scrum terms: it’s in their definition of done). At a bank!

Part of what worked is that there were some people in the top of the hierarchy who had visual impairments: there was a passion for accessibility at the top. Otherwise, to get support for spending time on accessibility, Jake explained, is a matter of small steps. Focus on those people who do like the idea and most importantly, do not give up.


I am just a front-end developer. For me, accessibility is usually about practical things like checking the colours that come in from designers, getting my markup semantics right and providing alternatives (in all kinds of ways).

At NCDT, I saw that it is not just about single team members (“we not me”, said Jon Hassell). This makes sense. Especially for large organisations, there can be a lot of company politics involved, and it is some people’s job to work these politics every day.

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