The Regulations for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities was enacted in Israel in 1998. This law was the basis for the accessibility regulations that came into effect in December 2013, which are designed to ensure that people with disabilities can use content and services like persons without disabilities, independently and without needing the help of a third party. Since many services are provided today via the Internet, the services and content must follow the Israeli Standard 5568, that is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – WCAG 2.0 of the W3C – World Wide Web Consortium.
Making web sites accessible, require an in-depth understanding of the accessibility guidelines and their impact on people with disabilities. To provide more accessible services, it is important that the service provider understands how people with disabilities use the Internet, and how they use assistive technologies to complete their tasks successfully.
Web development is generally not cheap. Ideally, when implementing principles of inclusive design at the beginning of the development life cycle of a website, the return on investment is high since the website’s services and content will be accessible and usable to all users and in particular, to persons with disabilities. Many organizations in Israel have chosen not to acquire the knowledge needed to make web content accessible since they lack or do not want to invest financial resources and since the organization does not have an in-house User Experience and development teams to do the necessary work. In addition, in case of an existing site, the site owners do not allow any changes to be made to their site code. As a result, organizations prefer to deploy an accessibility extension that will ensure the digital accessibility of the website and its services.
The accessibility extensions market in Israel provides free as well as paid-for extensions that require contractual obligations between the site owner and the accessibility extension provider/company. There are dozens of free extensions in the market that provide several accessibility functions, mainly visual, that allow users to change the font size on the page, adjust background colors and font colors, choose a readable font and more. The extension does not provide an accessible solution to all persons with disabilities, in particular people who use assistive technology such as screen readers and/or magnifying software, and do not provide users with the ability to navigate the page using only a keyboard and skip to special regions of content on the page such as the header, footer, and navigation elements such as menus. Therefore, installing such an extension on the website does not make the content accessible according to the standard. It is important to note that some of the free extensions allow the site owner to purchase an upgraded extension that will provide more accessibility options.
The Accessibility Extension company installs their product on the website and in accordance with its agreement with the site owner, provides additional accessibility services. The extension, when activated, inserts a layer of code that implements the accessibility guidelines according to the standard required, without changing the existing code. The extension provides an interface for users with or without a disability, to allow them to activate their preferences. Once these preferences are selected, they are saved and applied on any other web site that uses the same accessibility extension.
The accessibility extension resolves accessibility barriers to a certain level only and therefore, the extension company should perform accessibility tests with assistive technology during the application of the extension and not just at the end of the process and following the results of its testing, to implement changes in the code in order to bring the site to the necessary accessibility level (A, AA, AAA). When this article was written, EqualWeb and User1st, provided a backend accessibility platform that can be utilized to manually make accessibility adjustments without changing the site’s source code. This enables accessibility consultants and site developers to perform manual changes and reach an acceptable level of accessibility. User Accessibility does not provide a similar management platform but works with accessibility consultants and engages in individual adjustments according to the needs of the potential site users.
As of early January 2020, USERWAY and Nagishly provide Israeli companies, only with the extension itself without a backend platform for the site manager for manual adjustments. The final deliverable, therefore, is an automated accessibility website that may consist of components, that are still not accessible according to the standard or according to the users’ needs. In addition, none of the current existing extensions provide an accessible solution for PDF documents.
It is very important that the website owner and the in-house team responsible for building and maintaining the website, understand the accessibility regulations and together with the extension company, make sure that all accessibility guidelines are fully implemented on the site. Accessibility tests should be run on the site after the extension is implemented, incorporating people with disabilities in the tests, to be sure that the services provided via the site are accessible to people with disabilities.