Web accessibility for universal access to information and SDGs
UNESCO has announced 28th of September as the ‘International Day for Universal Access to Information’ (IDUAI) adopting a resolution on 17 November 2015. By declaring the day, in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 16.10, WSIS, relevant initiatives of UNESCO, etc., it hoped for more countries with access to information legislation, diversity in the cyberspace, and integration of women and men with disabilities.
Access to information is getting tempo as a human right, has great prospects if supported by advanced Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). Though some limiting laws (security and anti-terrorism mainly) are still perplexing in many countries, a better policy environment is evident in recent years in more than 100 countries in relation to adopting freedom of and/or access to information laws (FOI).
Among them, Bangladesh adopted Right to Information Act, 2009 to enable people with free flow of information and to ascertain right to information. It is not only a legal framework but Government of Bangladesh (GoB) ranged the essence through access to information (a2i) programme under Prime Minister’s Office to provide easy, citizen-centric, innovative and digital public services.
More than 5,000 Digital Centres and the National Web Portal, by linking government offices, deliver over 100 services to an average 4.5 million underserved citizens. Using ICTs, a2i has embedded diverse web-based contents regarding education, health, agriculture, transportation and so on in the portal, a single platform for universal access to information and services. The aim is to contribute in realizing SDGs, different general goals and/or specific targets within, particularly goal 3, 4 and 16.
Emphasis on e-service is growing, as Bangladesh is trying to deliver information and services to the doorsteps of the citizen and to minimize time, cost, hassles and corruption. Web is now considered as a very expedient and easily accessible apparatus for better information flow and hassle-free services.
But, the challenge is to ensure web accessibility, i.e. everyone’s access to the web irrespective of their physical state. Accessible web should facilitate access of people with disabilities as well. WHO and WB (2011) suggests that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability and it shows a growing trend. In Bangladesh, around twenty million people are living with a disability. While Bangladesh wishes to transform herself into an ICT-based digital economy, there is a scary possibility that a significant portion of the population with varying levels of disabilities and illiteracy could be left behind. While ICTs could improve the lives of people with disabilities, lack of web accessibility itself is a great barrier to them.
a2i, the innovation catalyst in the Bangladesh government, started asking itself that how accessible are the government websites under the National Portal Framework, which a2i had painstakingly developed as a harmonized system of public websites that could reduce the hassle, time and costs incurred by citizens in accessing and availing government information and services.
An internal accessibility audit conducted on November 2015 found different barriers in accessing government websites. Absence of navigation option for font and color combination; inaccessibility of sub-level menu using Tab key; lack of shortcuts for easy navigation; use of flash player, etc. are some of the problems identified.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a set of technical guidelines for universally accessible websites. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are developed based on four core principles: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust web. Websites and web contents are graded (A is for basic level accessibility and AAA is for the highest) based on the degree of compliance with these principles and the guidelines under them.
For instance, Australia, United Kingdom, France, European Union, etc. have accepted WCAG 2.0 or equivalent standards, with AA level mostly, for at least government agency websites. Australia and Norway require commercial sites to comply as well. Even India has accepted WCAG 2.0 Level A as standard for government websites in 2009.
It is mentionable here that, Bangladesh became a signatory and a ratifying party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007. There is a cabinet Division circular to ensure Unicode for all Bangla text. It also adopted Persons with Disability Rights and Protection Act, 2013 with legal directive on web accessibility. Therefore, it is not a surprise that, under leadership of a2i and the Prime Minister’s Office, a national web accessibility guideline has already been drafted for Bangladesh. Currently, a web accessibility tool kit is being developed to make all the websites accessible and barrier-free for all. Preliminary target is to achieve WCAG 2.0 ‘A’ standard and Bangladesh is eager to collaborate with global leaders of this domain.
People with disabilities are citizens with equal right to information and services. Bangladesh understands that without integrating them she can neither achieve universal access to information nor the SDGs. Because, SDGs emphasize on inclusion e. g. ‘empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status’.
Bangladesh is working on web accessibility assenting with the objectives of UNSECO linked with the IDUAI. Continuous improvement is desirable regarding web accessibility, the key for universal access to information. Developing an inclusive and informed society and ensuring good governance through it will help Bangladesh to emerge as a global thought leader in achieving SDGs.
Originally published in Global Accessibility News.