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Written by Finn Ruijter, 23 April 2020

Digital accessibility: with WCAG 2.1, everyone can participate

How does an older person experience your website? Can someone with dyslexia find the necessary information? Are your videos even watchable for people who are color blind or hard of hearing? Is your website digitally accessible? WCAG 2.1 provides positive answers to these questions.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) help organizations adapt their Web sites for users with disabilities. As you will read in this blog post, this is not only ethical, but also commercially sound.

About 25% of Internet users have disabilities

When everyone is sitting at home because of a pandemic, the importance of digital services is once again highlighted. But what turns out? By no means everyone can easily use the Internet. This table illustrates that well.


If you add up all the people with physical and mental disabilities, you arrive at 25% of the population. This means that more than 4 million people in the Netherlands cannot (yet) make optimal use of websites, apps and documents.

Why we need to make websites more accessible

In the Netherlands, we are used to public facilities being accessible to everyone. This is why we find, for example, wheelchair ramps at entrances, Braille on elevator buttons and audible signals at traffic lights. It has taken a long time for things to become mandatory, but they are here to stay.

You reach more people

We should provide the same accessibility as public facilities for digital facilities. That way, more people can find information, make purchases and consume entertainment online.

You become more findable

Search engines see it immediately when you improve the accessibility of a website. Go figure: you provide textual alternatives for images, videos for low-literate people and mark-up for paragraphs, lists and headings. This makes your site more indexable, provides search engines with the desired “context” they are looking for, and therefore can ensure higher rankings.

You save costs

An optimized website adapts to the user’s browser and connection speed. It does not use obsolete or redundant code and loads faster, saving bandwidth. Furthermore, it is easier and therefore more economical to update such a website, for example, to a future set of WCAG guidelines.

Digital accessibility becomes mandatory

A final reason for organizations to be digitally accessible is the fact that sooner or later it will become mandatory. For Dutch government agencies, this obligation already exists. In this way, the government sets an example in an inclusive society. That companies follow suit is a matter of time.

Public sector: serving more citizens

“In our society, you can hardly do without the Internet and computers. And many people don’t want to miss that at all. That’s why digital accessibility is important and mandatory for the (semi-)government.”

On the website of Logius, part of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, you can read what exactly is required then.

  • Apply accessibility requirements
    Agency websites must comply with the requirements in Section 9 of EN 301 549. These are similar to WCAG 2.1, level A and AA.
  • Publishing accessibility statement
    Bodies are also required to publish an accessibility statement on their websites. That statement states what measures the organization takes regarding digital accessibility.

Under the Temporary Digital Accessibility Decree, government and semi-government websites must be updated by a certain date. The following deadlines apply:

  • September 23, 2019
    Websites published as of Sept. 23, 2018, had to be updated to the WCAG 2.1 requirements no more than one year later.
  • Sept. 23, 2020
    This deadline applies to the majority of government and semi-government websites. It applies to websites that went live before Sept. 23, 2018. They get more time because there is more involved in modifying an older website.
  • June 23, 2021
    Government agencies with mobile apps should have updated them using WCAG 2.1 guidelines by June 23.

Private sector: expand your market at a stroke

The government does not (yet) require companies to follow WCAG 2.1 guidelines. Still, it makes sense for the private sector to work on digital accessibility as well for several reasons. The sooner, the better.

First, companies have a commercial interest in being more findable and accessible. In doing so, they expand their target audience, create goodwill and ultimately notice it below the line. Digital accessibility is a huge source of untapped potential. What company says “no” to 25% more website visitors or customers?

Second, customers can demand digital accessibility on legal grounds. The Equal Treatment on the Basis of Disability or Chronic Illness Act(Wgbh/cz) requires agencies and companies to take into account disabilities when it comes to employment, housing and the provision of services and goods. From time to time, the scope of this law is expanded.