A national network to promote Web Accessibility in France

Sylvie Duchateau (2), Denis Boulay (2), Claudine Tchang-Ayo (2) and Dominique Burger (1, 2)


1) INSERM U483
Université Pierre et Marie Curie B23
9, quai Saint Bernard
75252 Paris cedex 05

2) Association BrailleNet
12bis rue de Picpus
75012 Paris

E-mail :

Keywords : accessibility, people with disabilities, web site review, network of experts


This paper reports on the work of the BrailleNet Association in France to improve the web accessibility of French websites. The creation of an observatory of the accessibility of French websites, the constitution of a national reviewing network and the co-operation on the European level will also be discussed.

1. Introduction

During the four last years the European countries reduced the gap between Internet use in the United States and Internet use in Europe. The Internet is becoming part of our daily life and more and more services are offered on the web.
The Internet gave people with disabilities the opportunity to accomplish tasks they could not do before -such as booking a flight or a car, buying books and music, or simply reading the newspapers on the web. In France and several other European countries the general awareness concerning accessibility issues goes improving
. In countries like Portugal and the United Kingdom [2], the governments have published guidelines for the design of accessible public websites. In Spain, a campaign has been set up by SIDAR [3] to gather signings for the petition "accessible Internet for all"
. In France, the BrailleNet Association [4] has been leading an information campaign for two years and some progress have been achieved ever since. This paper will describe the work of BrailleNet in terms of promoting web accessibility, the progress that have been made, and the strategy for the future.

2. A campaign and some effective results

The BrailleNet Association was originally created 1996 to promote the integration of visually impaired people through the help of the Internet. One of the goals of the Association was thus to promote and make known the WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) [5] to website designers and decision makers. As the web becomes more and more complex and graphical, it was urgent to start an information campaign to explain the implications of the Internet for people with disabilities and to show that it is not difficult to make an accessible web site for all when a certain number of rules are considered from the beginning of the site development.

A. Campaigning tools

In order to inform people concerned with the Internet, different tools were used.
An information leaflet in four languages entitled "Le Web plus accessible pour les aveugles et malvoyants" (in English "Better access to the Web for blind and partially sighted people") [6] has been made available on the BrailleNet website. In addition, printed copies in French, English and Spanish were provided on the occasion of national and international conferences.
An on-line demonstration was intended to show inaccessible sites and how to make them easier to use by everybody. The use of style sheets to improve sites accessibility was discussed.
A textual browser, BrailleSurf, helped to show how people who cannot see graphics can read them when those are properly described [7].

B. Campaign actions

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 [8] was published in the Official Journal of the Government. This paper recommended to make public and administrative sites accessible for all and, in particular, for people with disabilities such as blind and partially sighted people and people with hearing impairment. The WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines should be taken into account
. As a direct consequence, the WCAG have been included in the instructions provided by the Internet Web site of the French Government in the original and French version [9].
After M. Descargues, a blind civil servant, delivered his report on the accessibility of information and telecomunication technologies for blind and partially sighted people [10], the interministerial council for state reform decided in october 2000 that the 2600 state web sites should become accessible to people with disabilities before June 2001 and that BrailleNet would work together with the government to achieve this goal

. 3. An observatory list of French web sites

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 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.

A. Site review

Before the site is published on the observatory it is submitted to a review.
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. Their needs as well as the needs of people with other disabilities are considered in INOVA's requirements as the needs of visually impaired people.
The 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 method describes how reviewers have to evaluate a web site. Reviewers have a form at their disposal containing the WAI checkpoints of the WCAG 1.0 checklist. Moreover, reviewers have to answer other usability questions.
Each reviewer has to use at least two different browsers (textual and graphical browser), and different assistive technologies to review the site. They have to report on how the site works with different tools and settings
This method has been registered and is under the copyright of BrailleNet.
The reviewing process is done by people with different competencies : technical knowledge, user experience, and human factor knowledge.
Different access tools are used for the 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 Jaws are used. At last, the reviewing tool Bobby from CAST [11] helps to find out if the site corresponds or not to the WAI Web Content Accessibility guidelines.

B. The observatory

The reviewed sites are mainly from general interest, including public services, media, culture, education, leisure and so on. In June 2001, there were 26 full reviews of Web sites and each month, a brief analysis of a specific site is added. At last, BrailleNet has published a dossier on the accessibility of 8 famous French newspapers and magazines.
Each full evaluation consists of one own page with an image of the site homepage. On this summary, the problems encountered on the site by people with disabilities are explained and solutions to improve the site accessibility are given. This observatory will be in constant evolution and some of the sites that have been analysed have already been submitted to a second review. It is worth mentioning that a part of them had been improved, others had become less accessible, and a third part of them remained unmodified
. Each site of the observatory has been analysed and noted according to a simplified accessibility scale. BrailleNet has published the results of these reviews on its web site [12].
Each web site has received a note going from no star to 4 stars. At the moment none of the sites has 4 stars, one site has no star. The notation scale is as follows:
**** Very good, congratulations
***+ Good accessibility
*** Rather accessible site
***- Average accessibility
**+ Unsatisfactory accessibility
** Poorly accessible site
* Low accessibility
0 Inaccessible site


4. Building of a network for a better promotion of Web Accessibility

A. Why is a network necessary

Considering the growing number of demands for site reviews, BrailleNet thought it was necessary to build a network of experts who would have the same abilities to review a site, train on web accessibility and have the ability to repair poorly accessible sites. This network should be the source of exchanges between those experts on the accessibility of a site and it should give the possibility to intervene on the national level, according to the geographic situation of the expert.

B. Which partners

The partners are chosen according to their geographic situation. There should be partners who would be able to cover all regions. They will represent different competencies: visual impairment, physical impairment, learning impairment, HTML specialists (webmasters, engineers), users, human factor knowledge.
The network should also regroup several activities: site reviewing, training, advising and repairing.
Today, the network is mainly constituted of partners who work in the field of visual impairment. Nevertheless, members of organisations specialised for other disabilities have been contacted.
Today the network has 7 members coming from different regions of France.
All partners are trained on the INOVA reviewing method and apply this method as a common working tool. Future experts should also be initiated to this method and should be able to contact decision-makers and web site designers to inform them about what can be done to improve accessibility.

5. Conclusion

During the last four years BrailleNet has gained good experience in the promotion of accessibility guidelines, the evaluation of web sites, webmaster training to make the content of their website accessible.
Good results have been achieved through the information campaign. Co-operation has been started with people in charge of important public web sites like the site of the French Prime Minister and other sites of important ministries. It is planned to produce a guide of web accessibility destined to designers of public web sites that would consider the WAI guidelines, that would explain the way people with disabilities work on the web, and give some solutions to make web sites accessible to all.
BrailleNet's work will extend to the European level, as the association collaborates with WAI in the WAIDA project [13] to promote accessibility in Europe.

6. References

[2] The guidelines of the UK government : http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/publications/guidelines/webguidelines/websites/design.htm
[3] SIDAR : petition for a web accessible for all - http://www.sidar.org/firmas/
[4] BrailleNet - http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr
[5] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines WCAG 1.0 -http://www.w3.org/WAI/wcag-curric/
[6] Better access to the WEB for blind and partially sighted people, D. Archambault & D. Burger & S. Duchateau, BrailleNet, 1998 - http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr/accessibilite/livreblanc/english
[7] BrailleSurf, An Internet browser for visually handicapped users: principles and methods, D. Hadjadj & D. Burger, 15th IFIP conference, Vienna/Budapest, 1998. BrailleSurf can be downloaded at: http://www.snv.jussieu.fr/inova/bs4/uk/index.htm
[8] Circular Note from October 7, 1999 - http://www.internet.gouv.fr/francais/textesref/circu071099.htm
[9] Guidelines on the prime minister site - http://www.internet.gouv.fr/francais/index.html
[10] Rapport Descargues: "L'accessibilité des nouvelles technologies de l'information et de la communication aux personnes aveugles et malvoyantes", Paris, July 2000 - http://www.ladocfrancaise.gouv.fr/descargues/
[11] Bobby - http://www.cast.org/bobby
[12] BrailleNet Observatory homepage http://www.braillenet.jussieu.fr/accessibilite/observatoire/english.htm
[13] WAIDA Project (Web Accessibility Initiative and Design for all) www.w3.org/wai/waida

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