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Norway passes Ontario … on Canada Day no less!

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Image of an accessibility sign on the floor near the luggage carousel marking a reserved space for accessibility.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport, where the luggage carousel design reserves space for accessibility (Photo: David Berman, 2014)

I just got back from a tour through Scandinavia, instigated by today’s co-blogger Marius Monsen. I met Marius at a workshop in Oslo in 2007. He’s currently leading UX at Vizrt, a company you’ve probably not heard of even though you see its work every day. Vizrt is the outfit that figured out how to virtually insert the first-down line on football broadcasts. It makes the tools that BBC, CNN, ESPN, and thousands of other broadcasters around the world use to create real-time 3D graphics, virtual studios and such.

Marius alerted me to the Norwegian legislation on ICT accessibility coming into effect this year, and invited me over to Bergen, Norway to run a workshop on online accessibility.

Here’s what Marius and I have to share…

Look to Norway

Canada has been a global leader in accessibility culture for many years. However, on Canada Day, Norway arguably will pass Ontario in one very specific area, with an unprecedented legislation regarding, among other things, web accessibility.

Notwithstanding some delays due to economic concerns, July 1, 2014 is the big deadline for Norway’s “Discrimination and Accessibility Act.” It goes further than Ontario in that Norway is demanding that private sector companies with web sites targeting the general public comply not just with WCAG 2.0 Level A (as is the requirement in Ontario), but also with the 13 additional criteria of WCAG 2.0 Level AA. It is the most ambitious digital accessibility legislation in human history.

In addition, the regulation does not limit compliance to organizations of 50 employees or more, as it is the case in Ontario. In Norway, there is no minimum size of company affected. This suggests that even Norwegian bloggers, as long as they are registered as a company, will have to follow these new standards. That’s how it reads, anyhow.

Naturally, the Supervision of Universal Design, the tilsyn (official government agency) that oversees the legislation, does not have the capacity to enforce the Accessibility Act on every website or ICT solution. It will undoubtedly focus on larger firms first. The director of the government agency says it will target public service sites like official government sites, banks, and public transportation, often imposing daily fines if their deadline for a fix is not honoured. The agency is definitely facing a challenge – it’s comprised of only 10 persons, with a budget of 11 million Norwegian kroner (around $2 million). Existing solutions are grandfathered to January 2021.

Here’s the unofficial translation to English of Section 14 of Norway’s Discrimination and Accessibility Act.

Congratulations, Norway!

Just as Ontario’s AODA represents a huge opportunity, both spiritually and financially, for Canadian designers to become leaders in the export of inclusive design, so it is that the Norwegians have an opportunity to help all of Europe and beyond create user experiences that accommodate (or better yet, delight) everyone – while driving down costs and improving search engine optimization.

It makes sense that agencies selling UX and development services, like ad agencies consultancy firms, would benefit from embracing and taking a strong position in this field. Accessibility is at the stage that usability was at perhaps a decade ago. At the time, most clients thought it was a “nice-to-have” but most didn’t really get why it mattered. So the willingness to pay for that kind of service was low. Now, strong usability is a natural part of any interactive product release. The same will happen for accessibility, but at an even faster pace due to legislation.

The whole world is watching

How can we work together to get more countries to follow Canada’s and Norway’s examples? The answer is two-part. The business world needs to see that there’s actual great return on investment in creating good, universally designed solutions. So it’s especially important that things go well in both Ontario and Norway … not just because the world is watching but also because it is quite simply the right thing to do. Accessibility legislation is valuable and will speed the process toward doing the right thing. But the best way of getting there is for we designers, developers, content owners, managers – everyone one who owns a part of the process – to embrace this remarkable opportunity to do good. Legislation or not.

More about today’s blogging partner:

Marius Monsen has spent over 15 years doing graphic- and UX design in Norway, spanning sites for travel destinations, online insurance and banking services, to apps for broadcasters, and game design. He’s passionate about making things attractive, usable and accessible. Now he is Global Head of UX at Vizrt, the company that makes what you see on TV possible.

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Reviewed June 27, 2014

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