FOR A MORE ACCESSIBLE WEB
Sylvie Duchateau, BrailleNet/WAI(1)
This paper presents the actions undertaken by the French BrailleNet Association to inform web site designers, decision makers and the public opinion about the necessity and the way to make public web sites and other important French websites accessible for all. BrailleNet's observatory of web accessibility will also be presented.
As Internet is becoming more and more popular, its accessibility is not an evidence for everybody. People with an impairment can take many advantages from the Internet. Nevertheless, if a certain number of recommendations are not respected, those users, and in particular visually impaired people, may have difficulties to access information.
In order to avoid a new exclusion of people with disabilities from the access to the Internet, a certain number of actions have been started all around the world. In Europe, and in particular in France, the Internet has been developing increasingly for the last three years. As a consequence, the question of Web accessibility has also become an actual topic in France and everywhere else in Europe.
This paper first presents the situation of the Internet in France. Then, it describes the tools used for campaigning for a more accessible Web during the last one and a half year, and the main action lines are explained. Finally, the results of the campaign are discussed and illustrated by the example of the Braillenet observatory on the accessiblity of French web sites.
In France, the Internet and the Web have started to get really popular after 1996, but like everywhere else they expanded extremely rapidly. Until very recently, there was no regulation concerning the Web and awareness concerning accessibility issues was very limited among the Web community.
Therefore, there was a strong need for disseminating information in France about the way to improve the accessibility of Web services for all citizens.
The right opportunity was given by the European Community who decided to support participation of European organisations to the WAI project . This lead in January 1998 to the commitment of BrailleNet in the WAI project, represented by its co-ordinating organisation, the INSERM.
A preliminary study
A preliminary study on the accessibility of Web sites in France was conducted with two main objectives:
BrailleNet analysed the accessibility of 111 Web sites. Two types of criteria were used for this evaluation based on (1) the WAI accessibility guidelines and (2) the site usability assessed by experts equipped with different Access Technologies.
This study showed that only few sites from the public administration and public services were accessible to everybody. Around 21% of the analysed sites were quite accessible, 22% were rather accessible, 38% were poorly accessible and 19% were hardly accessible.
This study confirmed that informing the public opinion, and in particular, the Web site designers and decision-makers, about accessibility issues was an urgent necessity.
In order to inform people concerned with the Internet, different tools were used.
Among the actions undertaken by BrailleNet, letters have been sent to webmasters of poorly accessible sites. Some lead to a co-operation between BrailleNet and Web site designers to improve the accessibility of those sites.
Letters sent to decision-makers had also positive results since 4 written questions were sent to 4 different Ministers. A circular note signed by the French Prime Minister  was published in the Official Journal of the Government. This paper recommended to make public and administrative sites accessible for all. As a direct consequence, the WAI guidelines have been included in the instructions provided by the Internet Web site of the French Government .
In order to examine the evolution of the accessibility of the French Web sites, an "observatory" has been constituted by BrailleNet. It is co-ordinated by the INOVA team of INSERM.
The site review is done according to an evaluation method developed by the INOVA team. This method relies principally on the users' experience and the most frequent problems they encounter while browsing on the Internet. The INOVA team works already with people concerned with physical impairment and their needs will be soon considered in INOVAs requirements as the needs of visually impaired people.
The INOVA method first relies on the WAI guidelines but also on the user experience with computer technology and the web, and in particular, on his knowledge of the website. The method finally relies on the user's disability, and the type of assistive technology he uses.
The review team is actually constituted of three people: a human factor, who has contacts with the users, a webmaster, who has large knowledge of the HTML code, and an experimented blind user, who knows the different assistive technologies used by French blind people.
For the site review graphic browsers like Microsoft Internet Explorer® and Netscape Navigator® are used, as well as text-based browsers, like BrailleSurf or Lynx®. Moreover, screen readers like Draculawin® or Jaws® are used. At last, the reviewing tool Bobby® from CAST  helps to find out if the site corresponds or not to the WAI content accessibility guidelines.
The reviewed sites are mainly from general interest, including public services, media, culture, education, leisure and so on. In May 2000, there were 11 full reviews of Web sites and each month, a brief analysis of a specific site is added.
Each full evaluation consists of one own page with an image of the site homepage. On this summary, we explain what are the problems encountered by people with visual impairment on this site and which solutions can be considered to improve the site accessibility. This observatory will be in constant evolution and the sites that have been already analysed will be reviewed from time to time. Moreover, new sites will be added regularly on the list.
An example of one review page is shown in annex.
Another objective of this observatory was to provide examples of accessible and less accessible Web sites, to give solutions to improve the accessibility of a site, and to allow exchanges between the web site designers.
After more than a year of information towards the public opinion, webmasters, and politicians, it is possible to observe the first positive effects of our campaign in France. More and more Web site designers know about the Web Accessibility Initiative and express the wish to receive an evaluation about the accessibility of their sites. Official directives encouraging accessibility are appearing.
Thus the question is raised to settle services functioning on a regular basis to help people solve the accessibility problems on the Web. We take this question very seriously, examining the setting up of a cross disability reviewer group in co-operation with other groups among the WAI.
Besides, the French Government seems to be more and more aware of the importance of the Internet for people with disabilities. As it is stipulated in the circular note of October 7, 1999, which was signed by the French Prime Minister, everything should be done, so that French public websites become accessible for people with disabilities, including people with hearing or visual impairment.
Another circular note of December 30, 1999, foresees that till June 2000, all administrative forms should be downloadable from the Internet.
At last, the government charged M. Bernard Descargues, a blind civil servant from the Health Ministry, to find out if French public websites are accessible and what should be done (on the side of web site designers and on the part of developers of assistive technologies) to allow a better access to the Internet for people with visual impairment. This mission should end in June 2000 with a written report. BrailleNet has been involved in this work and co-operates with M. Descargues on this field.
In France and several other European countries the general awareness concerning accessibility issues goes improving. Nevertheless, the way towards full accessibility is likely to be still rather long.
 Archambault, D. & Burger, D. "Le Web plus accessible pour les aveugles et malvoyants", Paris 1998, 1999. English version: "Better access to the WEB for blind and partially sighted people", also available in German and Spanish http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr/accessibilite/livreblanc/
 BrailleNet http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr
 Braillenet Observatory http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr/observatoire
 Bobby http://www.cast.org/bobby
 Burger, D. & Hadjadj, D., "Non Visual Surfing on the Internet: The BrailleSurf browser", in: AAATE 1999, Düsseldorf http://www.snv.jussieu.fr/inova/bs4
 Internet.gouv.fr http://www.internet.gouv.fr, follow the link "guide"
 Prime Minister http://www.internet.gouv.fr/francais/textesref/circu071099.htm
 WAI, The Web Accessibility Initiative http://www.w3.org/WAI
Synthèse d'évaluation du site du Premier Ministre
Le site officiel du Premier Ministre ne pose dans son ensemble pas de problèmes d'accessibilité puisque tous les éléments graphiques sont commentés et la structure est claire. C'est avant tout un site d'information. Les recommandations WAI de priorité 1 sont respectées.
Détail de l'évaluation
La page d'accueil :
La première page du site est divisée en plusieurs rubriques :
La structure du site est facilement compréhensible depuis la page d'accueil.
Les autres pages :
Les autres pages du site ont toutes un lien vers la page d'accueil. Elles ont toutes la même structure:
Une amélioration pourrait être suggérée : les utilisateurs déficients visuels doivent parcourir toute la liste des liens avant d'accéder à l'information principale de la page. Beaucoup d'aides techniques actuelles ne permettant pas de retrouver l'information principale de la page immédiatement, il pourrait être utile de mettre un lien interne menant directement à l'information principale.
Ce site est très riche en informations et la navigation y est tout à fait possible grâce à l'organisation des informations claire et structurée.Retour à l'observatoire
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