Toward Inclusion in Denmark

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.– Tim Berners-Lee. W3C Director and Inventor of the World Wide Web

If disabilities are a part of human diversity, why do we segregate and exclude? That is a gigantic human rights issue, so I’ll take the easy way out and just look at the issue from the angle of web accessibility. Information to citizens is constantly pushed to the web. There seems to be the viewpoint that everyone has access to a computer and the internet, so all information should be placed on the internet.

For some, this is like taking out the trash. “Let’s dump the trash in the back. Someone will pick it up and take it away, but what happens next is not our problem.” A website is put together, information is thrown into it, and the job is done. “Who comes to pick up the information and how they pick it up or use it is not our problem.”

Well, it is.

On 13 December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into being at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, along with its Optional Protocol. From 30 March 2007, countries could begin to sign and adopt this convention, and on 3 May 2008, enough countries had signed the convention so that it could be declared in “legal force and effect”. This convention is basically about human rights for people with disabilities.

It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights and areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.

Where does Denmark stand on this convention?

As a part of the P2PU Web Accessibility course I am taking, I was asked to look at what is happening with accessibility in my country.

Denmark was one of the first countries to sign the convention on 30 March 2007 and ratified the convention on 20 July 2009. According to the list of signatures and ratifications, Denmark has never signed the optional protocol. I have no idea why not. Support of the protocol would mean that an individual could petition the committee with a claim about breach of rights and the committee could investigate serious or “systematic” violations of the convention. Does this mean that those countries who have not signed this think they can avoid lawsuits?

Web Accessibility History in Denmark

Fortunately, steps have been made toward web accessibility in Denmark, despite the topic not being so well known in some circles.

A move toward accessibility was put forth in the Danish Parliament in 2005 as “B40”. The research that came out of that decision is available in Danish as “an overview of legislation, policies, and other initiatives of importance for formulating a common strategy for accessibility of IT-based tools in the public sector.”

Other reports were prepared concerning accessibility for citizens with disabilities at the time of the massive reform of the local government in Denmark (2005). The reports map the situation back then and are useful as historical documents.
Danish reports from 2006 about the state of IT accessibility in Denmark.

As a result of the parliamentary decision (B40), the following projects were started.

  • The government declared that it wants web accessibility on the public sector websites to ensure access for citizens with disabilities.
  • Accessibility initiatives included looking at open standards.
  • Improved guidelines about using WCAG 2.0 were created to help web developers know what they needed to do to make accessible websites.
  • Regular evaluations of all public sector websites were started in 2008 and results are published at the Web Check (Webtjek) site.
  • Danmark is also involved in initiatives toward a common standard for accessibility in public tenders (purchasing). (This might be ready now, but I didn’t find anything about it at this time.)

(This list is my interpretation of the Danish page about the projects coming from parliamentary decision B40.)

The Web Check Site

Since 2008, the web check site has published a report card for all public websites – national and local government sites, libraries and other public service sites. Guidelines for the web check requirements are provided so that you can do your own checks. On that page, you will also find practical tips for implementing and operating with the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. It declares that as of 1 January 2008, “Accessibility – WCAG – for public sector sites is an obligatory, open standard.”

That page has a link to a Danish language guide to WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Those guidelines cover only level A and AA, not AAA. The page states that the guidelines completely cover the obligatory open standards for websites in Denmark. When the official Danish translation of WCAG 2.0 is ready on the W3C site, there will be a link to it here. This page was last updated 9 September 2010, so this is quite recent.

The Accessibility Toolkit

The checklist page also has a link to an accessibility toolkit. The toolkit, or checklist, is provided to help the public sector remember all the accessibility requirements for tenders, purchases, and development of new digital solutions. The toolkit is prepared like a wizard that guides you through the requirements. They include instructions for first-time users of the guide, as well as information as to why this is so important. That is quite good, I think – the ongoing education.

My Impressions

After reading the Danish documents, I am left with the following feelings:

The focus is on making public sector IT tools accessible to all because there is a chance that someone with a disability will want to work there and all tools must be usable by them.

There is a wait-and-see attitude, as in, higher level actions are taking place, so let’s not decide anything until that is settled. This is split into an education and enlightenment phase, followed by a phase for whatever action should take place after any legislation is in place. These two phases seem sensible, but the wait-and-see attitude worries me.

It was hard to find information regarding the accessibility of the output – the documents or websites delivered to citizens. There was a lot of ambiguity, in my opinion.

I found ambiguity in the term accessibility at one point when discussing standards. It seemed to refer to “can you or can you not use this format”, as in do you have the application on your computer that can read this data. I did not pick up on an undertone of whether someone was perceivable, operable, understandable, or robust; could a person who is blind, Deaf, has different motor skills, or has learning disabilities obtain that information easily and independently. It sounded more like an open standards issues. Fair enough, but I fear that gets into technical battles at times and forgets about the people who just want some information.

In conclusion, for now, the UN took a giant step for human rights with this convention. Bureaucracy (practical logistics, some might say) takes tiny steps toward ensuring those human rights.