Website accessibility: lessons for Ukraine in a comparative global perspective

Main photo for post Website accessibility: lessons for Ukraine in a comparative global perspective
Author's photo for Institute of Innovative Governance

Institute of Innovative Governance


Web accessibility defined by the European Union as the feature that “allows everyone, including people with disabilities, to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with the Internet” is increasingly becoming a core feature of various strategies in the field of digitalisation. Therefore, it is imperative to consider the integration of individuals with disabilities into the digital sphere when envisioning the future evolution of a digitally inclusive society.

Digital accessibility for people with disabilities has been a foundational principle of the internet since its creation. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web, has been publishing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) since 1995, a document which outline a broad spectrum of recommendations aimed at improving the accessibility of web content and usability of internet tools.

In particular, the recommendations stress that digital information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can perceive in the best possible way. Therefore, it is crucial to provide effective alternatives to accommodate different disabilities (visual impairment, a diverse range of hearing, cognitive disabilities, etc). Moreover, the WCAG standards are categorized into three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict), Level AA, and Level AAA (the most strict). Content that aligns with Level AA is deemed reasonably accessible for the majority of individuals with disabilities. Websites that show excellent WCAG levels included the BBC (British Broadcast Corporation), the NGO Vision Australia or the multinational bank Barclays.

Governmental and policy initiatives are also very important to better understand the implications of web accessibility worldwide. For example, within the EU Member states, digital accessibility is guaranteed by the so called Web Accessibility Directive (Directive 2016/2102), which has been effective since December 2016, aiming to enhance website and mobile app accessibility for individuals with disabilities accessing public services. In Canada and US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides regulations to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, including in the digital sphere. ADA periodically publishes guidelines on how public authorities, local governments and businesses can develop a website that is accessible to people with disabilities. Furthermore, the Japanese government has created a document titled "Guidelines for Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities - Information and Communications Equipment, Software, and Services." This document lays out precise digital accessibility standards that websites are required to adhere.

However, it is important to note that while many countries use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a basis for their accessibility standards, the specific rules and penalties at a national level for not following them can be quite different. This means there are not single global standards for web accessibility that countries are legally obliged to implement. In other world, the world still lacks a global standard in the field of digital accessibility.

The lack of a global standard is especially significant for Ukraine for various reasons. However, there are at least three different yet interconnected reasons why digital inclusion and accessibility is of particular importance for Ukraine.

  1. Social Inclusion: First, as mentioned in our previous article, web accessibility holds special significance for Ukraine and its reconstruction efforts. Ensuring that websites are digitally accessible can greatly enhance the effectiveness and inclusivity of the reconstruction process by involving a larger number of Ukrainian citizens in this crucial process. Therefore, it is essential to follow global standards like WCAG and to ensure that both policymakers and the general public grasp the significance of web accessibility. This is a vital component of the reconstruction process, especially considering that the unprovoked Russian aggression has unfortunately led to a dramatic increase in the number of people with disabilities in the country. Therefore, Ukraine must ensure that every Ukrainian can benefit from the promising digital future the country has planned to develop during and after the reconstruction. It is also remarkable that the WCAG 2.1 guidelines were recently translated into Ukrainian and thus it is now possible to make them available to the wider public.
  2. European Integration: Second, Ukraine aims to attain full membership in the European Union in the coming years. These efforts are expected to be a long effort, as Ukraine must undertake numerous reforms and make various changes to align with the EU Acquis Communautaire, which encompasses the accumulated European legislation, legal acts, and court decisions constituting the body of European Union law. Therefore, Ukraine will need to implement several reforms to its social policy, particularly in the realm of inclusivity for people with disabilities that are usually regulated under the EU acquis chapter 19 (Social Policy & Employment). For example, Ukraine will need to fully implement the European Accessibility Act (Directive 2019/882), which is a groundbreaking EU directive that mandates the accessibility of certain everyday products and services for individuals with disabilities. Hence, web accessibility plays a crucial role in not only enhancing the delivery of services to individuals with disabilities in Ukraine but also facilitating the nation's alignment with European standards and adherence to critical elements of EU legislation, such as the European Accessibility Act or the above-mentioned Web Accessibility Directive.
  3. Global Standards: as remarked in the previous paragraphs, global standards and best practices in the area of digital accessibility vary from country to country and there are no common standards in terms of non-compliance or different interpretation. Nevertheless, this situation presents a remarkable opportunity for Ukraine. The ongoing reconstruction efforts in Ukraine offer a distinctive chance to establish a global precedent for ensuring digital accessibility for its citizens. By dedicating resources and concerted efforts to this relatively small yet pivotal area, Ukraine has the potential to emerge as a shining example of integration and digital inclusivity on the world stage. The establishment of unprecedented standards can serve as a model to be shared with democratic partners worldwide. In essence, prioritizing web accessibility can bolster Ukraine's soft power, solidifying its reputation as an inclusive and stable democracy. Such a development would not only benefit individuals with disabilities but also every Ukrainian citizen.

Let's make Ukraine inclusive and accessible for everyone!

Check your website