What is accessibility?

What does accessibility mean?

Accessibility is justice and equality in digital services.

The Act on the Provision of Digital Services requires public-sector online services to be accessible. Accessibility means that websites and mobile applications are usable to as many people as possible, including people who have functional impairments and need technical aids, such as screen reader software. Accessibility also means that online services are easy to understand.

Merely publishing something online, i.e. making the content available online, is not enough. The needs of different users must be taken into consideration in the production of online services and the delivery of contents. The benefit achieved from accessibility is not limited to people who have been classified as disabled, as it assists all persons using the content. Even if you do not have any permanent functional impairments, accessible online services can sometimes be of help to you, too. For example, if your computer mouse is out of commission, it is good if the online service can be used with a keyboard alone. Similarly, if your reading glasses are missing, it is good if the text can be enlarged sufficiently.

In short, accessibility means that information is presented in a way that makes it available to everyone at all times. All users must be able to read (see or listen to) the content, regardless of the publication or presentation method.

Accessibility means that:

  • the contents are available and accessible to everyone
  • the contents are in a form that everyone can understand
  • the services and contents are available to everyone, i.e. everyone has access to the information that they need and can take care of their matters
  • people are treated equally regardless of their special characteristics.

Everyone has the same rights to receive services, find contents and use public services. Accessibility is a moral obligation to serve all citizens equally. The same way that a ramp is built for people with reduced mobility, publications must be made such that everyone has access to their contents.

How is the implementation of accessibility determined?

The implementation of accessibility is a combination of content production and technology. Different contents are subject to different requirements. The requirements vary for texts, images, videos and different types of media. It is not possible to set unambiguous requirements for all situations. The requirements are based on the international guidelines on how accessibility is to be implemented in online services.

What on Earth are the WCAG criteria?

The Act on the Provision of Digital Services requires that contents published online follow the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an international set of instructions developed and maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium. The current legally prescribed requirements are based on version 2.1 of the guidelines. The WCAG set three different target levels for accessibility: A, AA and AAA. The requirements of the EU directive on accessibility are based on the AA level of version 2.1 of the WCAG.

The purpose of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is to ensure that online contents are available to all people, even if they have functional impairments or use assistive technology. The guidelines feature principles, general instructions and measurable success criteria. The law requires that 49 different WCAG success criteria be met. The instructions provided in this guide are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and their success criteria. You do not have to know the WCAG criteria yourself. Knowing and understanding that they underlie the accessibility guidelines and the law is enough.

The WCAG set the following objectives for accessibility:

PerceptibilityAll the contents and user interface components can be perceived with the technologies that users use.
OperabilityNavigating the user interface and the contents must be easy with different technologies, and the features of the user interface must not disrupt or prevent use.
UnderstandabiltyThe contents must have a clear structure, the language must be understandable and the functions must be easy to deal with.
RobustnessThe website must be available to several different terminal devices, different operating systems and all common browsers and assistive technologies.

What are aids?

Aids refer to devices and programs that help users manage and use different terminal devices, such as computers and smartphones, and convey information about the contents. Aids are needed and used by persons who have difficulties with using information technology due to issues such as a sensory disability, an illness or cognitive problems.

One example of such aids is screen reader programs, which convey the information shown on the screen via a synthesised voice reading the text or as braille text on a braille display. In addition to visible content, screen readers also convey code markings and information about the structures, such as heading levels or text alternatives for images. There are several different screen reader programs available with operational differences.

Understandability is part of accessibility

Keep in mind that a document you create may also be subject to laws other than the Act on the Provision of Digital Services. For example, the Administrative Procedure Act requires that public authorities use appropriate, clear and understandable language.

By following the instructions provided in this guide, you can make sure that the document you create is technically accessible. By writing clear and easy-to-understand language, you can make sure that as many people as possible will understand what they read. As such, try to use standard language that is as clear as possible and avoid special terminology.

When you want to write clear language, do as follows:

  • Use commonplace and understandable words.
  • Use subordinate clauses instead of participle structures.
  • Address the reader, at least when giving the reader instructions.
  • Favour active verbs and clearly named agents.
  • Use words and phrases that express relations between matters, such as ‘even though’, ‘in order to’, ‘when’ and ‘therefore’.
  • Explain any abbreviations when using them in the text for the first time.
  • Explain any new terms when they appear the first time.

If possible, ask a colleague to read your text and assess how easy it is to understand. You can also test the fluency of the language yourself by reading your text aloud. If a part feels difficult to read aloud, you should think about how you could clarify it.

We have compiled guidelines for implementing accessibility. Read more: