Malin Rygg, SAGA Manager: “Universal design boosts everyone’s productivity”
An exercise in reinforcing democracy. That’s how to interpret the impending implementation of the EU Web Accessibility Directive.
In our modern digitalised age, we expect to be able to do “everything” on the Net or via an app – be it a question of doing a job, paying bills, buying food, booking travel, listening to music, reading books, watching TV shows, or communicating with the public sector; and we expect the process to be quick and smooth every step of the way.
But have you considered the fact that not everyone has equal access to the Net? That people with impaired vision, for instance, cannot read the information on many websites because the contrast is so poor? Or that people with impaired hearing miss out on the content of an information film if there are no subtitles?
Directives in the pipeline
The EU Commission estimates that more than 80 million people in Europe have some form of disability that prevents them from accessing some websites and apps. And as the proportion of elderly people continues to rise, this figure is expected to increase to 120 million people who are shut off from a key aspect of society. In 2015, there were 270 000 people in Norway without internet access. What happens to the democratic rights of all these people at a time when more and more information, including information from the public sector, is communicated via the Net? This is an issue of concern to both the EU Commission and the Norwegian Government.
As early as in 2013, Norway introduced regulations on universal design of ICT solutions, precisely to lower the threshold for entry into the digital society. That same year, the Norwegian Authority for universal design of ICT was established as the first of its kind in the world. A couple of years later the government launched an action plan for universal design, whose objectives included halving the number of residents without internet access by 2020.
For its part, the EU has prepared directives concerning internet accessibility and general accessibility/universal design. The Web Accessibility Directive was adopted by the EU Commission in 2016 and is to be implemented in EEA countries over the course of 2019. The directive concerning general accessibility, the European Accessibility Act, was adopted by the EU Parliament on 13 March 2019.
Cross-border services and partnership
One of the people who has been given especial responsibility for following up on the work of the public sector with accessibility is Malin Rygg, whose everyday job is Head of the Authority for universal design of ICT at Difi (the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment). Since autumn 2018, she has also headed up the Strategic Advisory Group on Accessibility (SAGA), where Standards Norway has a secretariat. Originally established by the European standardisation organisations CEN and CENELEC, SAGA is a strategic advisory group tasked with ensuring that universal design is included in all relevant standardisation work at European level.
“First and foremost, universal design has to do society actively promoting conditions to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to participate, irrespective of any disability they may have. This will benefit everyone – not just people with special needs. Universal design boosts everyone’s productivity,” says Malin Rygg.
As head of SAGA, Malin is tasked with making sure that the principles of universal design are applied in all European standardisation. Once the directives have been implemented it will be necessary not only to update existing standards, but also to prepare new ones.
“Personally, I am passionately committed to ensuring that universal design becomes a natural, integrated part of all standards that are applied to any user interface, be it physical or digital. When it comes to web accessibility in particular, I have no doubts that standards will have a key role to play. Digital standards are not limited by borders, and it is when everyone applies the same standards that we can adopt a truly common approach that helps make everyday life easier for everyone. That is why the work SAGA is doing is both important and relevant. When we work together at European level, we can share experience and work our way to best practice,” says Malin Rygg, and adds:
“The more digitalised society becomes, the more important it becomes to ensure that everyone has full access. I think that commercial companies have also realised that they stand to make more money by being even more accessible to even more people.”