The barrier-free use of internet offers is not a matter of course. People with physical or cognitive disabilities regularly experience difficulties online, both in their private lives and at work. Therefore, public administration services in particular play a pioneering role in making the Internet as accessible as possible. We explain what this means here.
Most recently, the “E-Rechnung in Bayern” service (e-invoice in Bavaria) of the Bavarian State Ministry of Digital Affairs was awarded the official “BITV-compliant” mark of conformity; see also the corresponding blog post. By means of the lean internet offer (not only) administrative staff in Bavaria can validate and visualise electronic invoices (“e-bills”). mgm technolgy partners realised the offer as technical service provider.
Barrier-free for different user groups
But what does “barrier-free on the Internet” mean? What does “accessibility on the Internet” actually mean? First and foremost, it serves to enable people with one or more handicaps to access internet services. However, the target group is diverse. These include users with impaired vision, both blind and deaf, as well as people with motor or cognitive disabilities. The needs of temporarily disabled or elderly people must also be taken into account. Barrier-free is therefore different for everyone. This is a challenge for technical devices, programmes and above all for the design and development of websites.
Assistive technology, ARIA & Co. enable participation
There is now a wide range of aids for barrier-free Internet use. So-called “assistive technologies” make it easier for various target groups to use the digital world. “Such assistive devices are hardware and/or software that provide more functions than the usual user agents such as a browser and thus support disabled people,” explains Anna Weissenborn from the mgm-UI/UX team. The technologies provide users with an alternative way to travel the Internet according to their abilities:
- Special output devices, such as NVDA or JAWS screen readers, read aloud web pages for blind or visually impaired users.
- For blind people there is a keyboard supplement with Braille, on which, among other things, texts from Internet pages are displayed haptically.
- Strongly motor-impaired people, who can only move their head, work with suction-blow switches and can thus manage the complete control with their mouth.
In addition to assistive technologies, the design of the website source code plays a decisive role. mgm uses a combination of classic HTML and special ARIA elements. ARIA is a web standard recommended by W3C to make internet applications more accessible. This also ensures that mgm’s own A12 software development platform ensures that, for example, navigation elements, buttons and form fields are output barrier-free.
Accessibility must be considered from the very beginning
A major barrier-free factor is design: colours, contrasts and fonts must be used deliberately. And the challenges are manifold. Example: a screen magnifier enables people with impaired vision to enlarge desired areas. Appropriately designed click surfaces on barrier-free websites help older people to use them, for example on mobile devices with touch screens: “For older people who cannot type so precisely, the touch surface must be correspondingly easy to reach, larger than just a small icon,” says accessibility expert Weißenborn.
Consistent design of navigation mechanisms and design elements such as headlines, texts and images also offers stress-free use, especially for people with poor concentration. There are also numerous assistive possibilities on the text level. Alternative texts can be placed behind pictures or graphics so that screen readers can read them.
In Germany: 7.5 million severely disabled people
In Europe, there are about 80 million citizens with recognised serious handicaps, and 7.5 million are considered severely disabled (at least 50% disability according to the Office for Social Security). Not everyone automatically has difficulty using the Internet and is dependent on assistive technologies. However, the rate is higher than for people without a handicap. This is particularly true for older people, far more than half of severely disabled people were over 65 in 2019. The Internet can also and especially for this large population group be of great help when it comes to information about and participation in digital services provided by administrations, social security institutions, health insurance companies and local authorities. And: on the other hand, more than 40 percent of severely disabled people are, of course, in doubt at work and in their private lives when using the Internet.