The Dutch accessibility law is awesome

Despite having been in effect since September 1 2006, I had not seen any mention of the Dutch law that regulates the quality of government websites until Peter-Paul Koch mentioned it in his post New Dutch accessibility law.

I read ppk’s summary of the guidelines referred to by the law, checked out the actual guidelines (Besluit Kwaliteit Rijksoverheidswebsites–the document is only available in Dutch, but I do know enough Dutch to be able to read it reasonably well), and was stunned.

These guidelines (rules, rather) are amazing. They go way beyond the Swedish guidelines that I’ve been involved in writing, and it is mandatory for government websites to comply with them. How about that.

A few highlights of what is required:

  • separate structure from presentation
  • do not use deprecated markup
  • when creating a new website, use a Strict doctype
  • use progressive enhancement
  • create semantic class and id values
  • use the W3C DOM when scripting
  • script-only links must be generated by JavaScript
  • do not use the alt attribute to create tooltips

Like I said, this is great stuff.

There’s been some discussion regarding whether Web accessibility should be required by law or not, and I have been pretty neutral, wanting to believe that things actually can improve without laws.

But as time has passed with not an awful lot happening with regards to the quality of public sector websites, I really think it’s about time to step things up in the rest of the world. Governments of the world, translate the Dutch guidelines and make them mandatory for all websites financed by public sector organisations. Just do it, and put an end to taxpayer money being given away to incompetent Web amateurs.

Update: As several people have mentioned in the comments, it isn’t really a law. Complying with the guidelines is mandatory for government websites, but there is no fine for not complying.

Posted on February 13, 2007 in Accessibility, Web Standards

Comments

  1. I love my country….

  2. Isn’t it funny that Dutch lawmakers managed to put together something that knocks seven year’s worth of W3C effort (i.e. WCAG 2) into a cocked hat?

    And by “funny”, I mean both amusing and strange. And, I guess, mortifying.

  3. Like Whick, I also love my country on this one :)

  4. Like Whick & Arjan E.: yay for us Dutch!

  5. February 13, 2007 by Jeffrey Wilson

    This is great. pauldwaite, I agree that it is quite funny. However, I’m happy and quite surprised to see that there is a lawmaker out there who cares. Yay for the Dutch!

  6. “I love my country….”

    ditto :-)

  7. February 13, 2007 by Martijn Senden

    It’s obviously a great imporvement. On a sidenote however: these rules only apply to the ‘Rijksoverheid’, i.e. the federal government. Local authorities are not by law required to follow them.

    Until april 2006, I used to work for the Rijksoverheid. Believe me, most websites of federal government in Holland still have a long way to go before they live up to the rules set in this legislation. Besides, it is not a Law, but a ‘Besluit’, which is more like an official decision of a Ministry, that is approved by the ‘Tweede Kamer’ (congress).

    Well, that’s really just nitpicking. In general, I think it can mean a great move forward for standards, and quality web design in Holland. At least on (federal) government sites.

  8. I find it amazing that they have managed not only to make it a law, but also write the law to such a technical detailed level. That is way beyond any specification I have ever seen. Who wrote the law? Why did not anyone complain about the details?

    What strategy did the web standardistas in the Netherlands use to be able to secure such a massive victory?

    I would like to learn more…

  9. Wow. I’m shocked and amazed. Way to go!

    I work in government and I come across very, very few government sites which are standards compliant and accessible. When I do find one, I have to congratulate the web team, because it’s an extraordinary find. I wish things were different, and professionally built sites were the norm.

  10. Now if they could just make using IE6 punishable by death…

  11. Reading the highlights piques my interest, but my parents didn’t teach me to speak Dutch (they were born in the Netherlands) so I can’t read the full document. Please can some of you Dutch-speaking folks get together and translate into English for the rest of the world to read?

  12. Now that is awesome… Let’s just hope that other countries don’t take too long to follow suit…

  13. I think it’s great that they are taking it so seriously. Like Gerry stated, it’s insane how many government and corporate sites are not even close to standards compliant and accessible.

    One thing that caught my eye was “do not use the alt attribute to create tooltips.” It makes me wonder why browsers display them as such.

  14. February 14, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Jeff:

    One thing that caught my eye was “do not use the alt attribute to create tooltips.” It makes me wonder why browsers display them as such.

    “Browsers” don’t. Internet Explorer and Netscape 4 on Windows do. Two of a kind…

  15. And it’s not just that single document too. You’ll find extensive information on the how and why of proper web development at Overheid.nl Webrichtlijnen. Each guideline is explained into great detail, so that web developers who are still stuck in the “best viewed with IE5.5+” way of thinking, can pick up rather quickly and learn how to do it right.

    And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, there’s a very thorough validator available, so that you may test your website against these guidelines as well: Webrichtlijnentoets.

    It’s definitely an important step towards a more accessible web. Perhaps the EU should follow this example.

  16. Best regards from Poland. I’m trying to make accesible websites too.

  17. About time. :)

  18. http://www.anysurfer.be/

    The Belgian initiative. Governments around here seem to be picking up webstandards. It’s a good thing, one advise for the Dutch version is to at least enhance their theme a bit. You don’t convince people with layout that look like they’ve been made 10 years ago.

    I still don’t know if forcing things by law is the way to go. Especially the “progressive enhancement” thing sounds quite tricky. Even in the best sites, it’s possible to find things that aren’t very usable with js/css turned off.

    Imagine lawsuits being issued by nitpicky people.

  19. Hehe, I helped authoring these back at Cinnamon.nl; I never thought that it would be picked up by the internationals years after. Back then I was kind of torn up over the high aim we had with this, the amount of detail we put in and that a lot of the technical information is in between fact and opinion (and, as the comments here and at PPK show, easily subject to debate).

    As already got noted, these documents are not law. A law cannot be so easily subject to interpretation.

    However, seeing how impressed people are with it makes me realize again that it was the right thing to do, after all. If developers would only accept half of what’s in there and debate the rest, that already is a huge leap forward. That is my opinion.

  20. Like Raph said on the ppk comments. An archived version of the Web Guidelines is available at http://webrichtlijnen.overheid.nl/archive/version1.1/english/ this isn’t version 1.2 but might be usefull.

  21. I’m not a fan of rules from above. It always seems to smack of censorship, and I always feel you have to let every voice be heard. But perhaps waiting for people to demand standards compliant sites, is like waiting for my three year old to demand wholemeal cereal for breakfast. Decisions like this will ripple out too, first Gov websites, then websites connected with Gov, then websites supplying or having Gov contracts etc. So I guess on balance I support this, Yeah Dutch!

  22. Stuart,

    When you work for a client, aren’t his or her wishes not “rules from above” as well? As far as I can see ( I am no longer involved with the company sho helped creating this) these guidelines are not law. They are however the requirements that are demanded of you if you want to have a Dutch federal government body to become one of your clients.

  23. While this is a great initiative, most dutch websites still have a long way to go. For most government organizations this is just gibberish, and the majority of “web designers” are already taking advantage of this.

    Take for example www.loketz.nl which was supposed to be xhtml 1.0 validating, separating presentation from content et al. Right now it has a “large text” option, marked with title=”” to be for blind people…

    Fortunately, the company is supposed to rebuilt it for it to be up to the standards requested.

    @kris, I indeed understood that cinnamon took a large part in those guidelines, it’s a very good company :)

  24. Hey, Roger, spreek jij Nederlands? Wat leuk, doe ons eens een stukje in ons gezellige taaltje ;-)

    Several websites of the Dutch ministeries (http://www.minfin.nl, http://www.minvws.nl, http://www.minjus.nl) have gotten a rigorous makeover the last year, complying to the Guidelines mentioned by Roger. Even though the new websites now all look quite similar in structure and in style, (and maybe not that exciting) at least they are a lightyear ahead of most other governmental sites out there. So score 1 for the Dutch ;-)

  25. That sounds like a good initiative for sure.

    You might have seen this already on the WASP site but there’s a link to a petition in the UK for Government sites to be more accessible, if you live in the UK you should sign it and give it some support.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/govaccessibility/

  26. I guess a lot of firms doing asp.net development will have to ramp up skills-wise if they still want to be considered as suppliers to the public sector ;-)

  27. It seems nobody has translated this decree/law yet. So I’ll step up and try to fill the void. I’m almost halfway there, but I thought I’d share what’s done already. It can be found at; http://algemeenbekend.nl/misc/dutch-accessibility-decree.html

    I’ll try to finish the rest as soon as possible.

  28. I hope this to become a law in North America and Europe.

    Now if they could just make using IE6 punishable by death…

    Please, not so strange, just let them make browser-development-companies to create only standart-compliant browsers and follow the progress.

  29. Definitely a great milestone. Hopefully it pushes the quality of web sites made by Dutch companies, whether their client is the government or not.

    We could use it ;-)

  30. It’s nice that they make websites adhere to laws folllowing web standard guidelines.

    Now, if there were laws for browser makers I’d have to question whether I’m still alive or am I in heaven…

  31. I love this thing too, but I’m afraid to get excited about it until I know whether they’ll enforce it or not. There’s some web accessibility laws here in the US, but I don’t see them being enforced.

  32. February 15, 2007 by Martijn Senden

    Sebastiaan: http://www.minvenw.nl also improved their site and now looks and feels similar to the sites of the ministries you mention in your post. There are still a million examles of much worse government sites in Holland. E.g. http://www.rijkswaterstaat.nl/, which is the site for the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management. It isn’t even really old, it’s just badly designed (much worse than the sites you mentioned).

  33. This is certainly a fantastic basis for getting more accessibility built-in to certain sites…great news!

    There are two bits that I’m curious about though:

    • ‘use the W3C DOM when scripting’

    Why? Maybe I’m just being a bit dozy…or highlighting my ignorance of the DOM, but why is it important to use this for scripting rather than JavaScript?

    • ‘script-only links must be generated by JavaScript’

    What about if users have JavaScript disabled though?

    I appreciate anyone’s answers to those two points.

  34. February 15, 2007 by Masklinn

    Matt Robin said:

    • ‘use the W3C DOM when scripting’

    Why? Maybe I’m just being a bit dozy…or highlighting my ignorance of the DOM, but why is it important to use this for scripting rather than JavaScript?

    The W3C DOM is not a language, it’s an interface to the parse tree of your page. Basically, this guideline says that you’re only allowed to use the standard, modern way to manipulate HTML in javascript (W3C’s Document Object Model), as opposed to the proprietary document.all, document.forms, document.images, … (Internet Explorer) and document.layers (Netscape

    • ‘script-only links must be generated by JavaScript’

    What about if users have JavaScript disabled though?

    That’s exactly the point: script-only links designates links that are only used to initiate javascript actions (no HTTP request), and are therefore unusable and useless for users with Javascript disabled. Therefore confusing.

    The guideline means that if you have a link which is used exclusively for JS actions (no fallback/graceful degradation), then it shouldn’t be in the HTML source code in the first place, it should be generated via javascript.

    This way, users who don’t have javascript don’t see any abnormal/useless link, only those they can actually use.

    PS: Roger, isn’t your Markdown module somewhat incomplete? The backticks (`) for inline code blocks don’t seem to work right in the preview.

  35. Yah, that is great, above all since it’s still reasonable. I still like these Dutch guys. (You know the deal with Germans and Dutch, do you.)

  36. I’ve worked on a Dutch municipality website. It seems to hold up okay. I left the company who was makinging the site so I wasn’t able to see it all the way through. Design wise it needs some cleaning up. The HTML is a start and should be easy enough to maintain. The CSS does needs some more work to comply with durability. Municipalities do not yet need to comply with this goverment guideline (as far as I know). Which is a shame because these are the most useful sites and for the most part are in dire need of cleaning up. But it’s a start. We’ll keep plugging away to get clients, designers and developers alike to see the error of their ways :)

  37. I finally finished the English translation of this law . I hope someone finds it useful.

  38. Great work Gerben thanks for that.

    The format of the ‘guidelines’ are great - it’s nice to have a set of bullet-points to run through and compare to a site. On the whole the list seems to be of much use.

    I’ve not had a chance to read the whole document properly but the section on email rings alarm bells:

    ” R-pd.8.16 Links to e-mail addresses: the e-mail address should be visible in the linktext.

    R-pd.8.17 Links to e-mail addresses: de URL in the href attribute of a link to an e-mail address, may only contain the mailto protocol and an e-mail address.

    R-pd.8.18 Don’t apply any technical measures to the website to disguise an e-mail address for spam robots. “

    …how can I protect myself from spam-bots with that set of rules?

  39. Interesting…

    I see this NL new law as a good step forward!:-) What the document recommends could be a good guideline for any new website which cares about Webstandards and accessibility:)

    Bravo! :)))

  40. Will these guidelines also apply to third-party weblications which the Dutch Govt use internally?

    The UK DDA law covers both apps and sites, internally and externally.

  41. @jbot: a lot of questions are asked lately if ‘our’ Webguidelines also apply to web-applications. I myself believe there is no difference: if the front-end of the application is (X)HTML the Webguidelines apply. Offcourse it’s not easy: .NET controls, javascript-forms, non-scaling: a lot of existing web-applications are not ready. But it sure is possible, and I’m happy to hear the DDA law covers both.

    As one of the people who helped getting the guidelines done I am very happy to see the enthusiasm: it prooves to us that we have a good thing going ;-). Already the corporate websites of 9 of the 13 ministries in The Netherlands are renewed using the guidelines, and the rest will follow this year. Also a lot of other governmental websites follow. Slowly but hopefully surely.

    @Roger: thanks for this post :-).

  42. …how can I protect myself from spam-bots with that set of rules?

    My guess is that they meant “don’t put tag soup around email addresses” or something along those lines. Personally, I can’t see how typing out “username at domain dot com” impairs usability.

  43. R-pd.8.16 “the e-mail address should be visible in the linktext” is about usability: in that way a user can also ‘copy/paste’ or write down the e-mail address. And sometimes the ‘mailto’ protocol does not work.

    R-pd.8.17 “the URL may only contain the mailto protocol and an e-mail address” is because sometimes these extra parameters don’t work, and if you want to do more for a user that just an e-mail address we think you should use a web-form for that.

    R-pd.8.18 “Don’t apply any technical measures to the website to disguise an e-mail address for spam robots” is because these measures can hinder users and don’t always work, and are not a structural solution. The battle against spam should be fought on other grounds, like in mailservers or in court…

  44. New Zealand government websites also have a similar set of standards for anyone who gets the job of developing a NZ govt website.

    http://www.e.govt.nz/standards/web-guidelines/web-guidelines-v-2-1/chapter1.html

    It’s long and comprehensive, and mostly covers “good practice” the whole way through. Not just using CSS and coding for accessibility, but it also goes into things like URLs that don’t convey what technology was used, and only using Javascript that degrades gracefully.

    All seems like common sense, but there’s a lot to it when it’s all written out like that.

  45. R-pd.8.18 “Don’t apply any technical measures to the website to disguise an e-mail address for spam robots” is because these measures can hinder users and don’t always work, and are not a structural solution. The battle against spam should be fought on other grounds, like in mailservers or in court…

    Let me disagree on that!

    Every webdeveloper knows that the battle against spam can’t be efficiently enough fought in the mailservers nor in court.

    For my part, I would never, ever put an e-mail address into a website, without at least one measure against spambots:

    • Option 1 - publish the email in a form which is easily distinguished by humans as an e-mail address, but cannot be read by a bot - examples: email[at]website.com, email2(at)this.domain, etc.
    • Option 2 - progressive enhancement can be used, so when you publish email[at]website.com on the website, a small JS code snippet substitutes the [at] with the ’@’ sign, and when JS is not available, then the email can be easily read by any human being:)
    • Other options can be used, as well - encode the ’@’ sign with some html trickery - like #64 (put & at beginning and ; at the end)… users will see @, so no accessibility problems at all:)

    I have used in my webdesign practice a couple of these methods and I do not think that they make users’ experience worse! And to think that it’s better to put online an email address, in plain text form, and with “mailto:”, and then when spammers get it easily, you can fight an easy battle in court against them - come on, people, be resonable! Which court, when, and how you’ll find all the spammers?…

    It’s impossible…

    So better use some JS + emails with (at) instead of ‘@’, than give for free emails to spammers…

    My $ 0.02 :)

  46. This law sure is a step forward at this time. However, it may also quickly turn into something that effectively prevents progress in a year or two.

    Look, for example at paragraph 2.6:

    Use CSS Level-2.1 in accordance with the W3C specification to design governmentwebsites.

    One day CSS 2.1 will be outdated. But will the law be updated accordingly, too? If not, dutch web designers will be forced to create outdated websites one day.

    This is a general problem with this kind of laws, since laws once created tend to be rather static. Over here in Germany, for example, there still is a law that all governmental IT infrastructure must support the ISO OSI network protocols. This law is from the 80s, and unfortunately the TCP/IP protocol took over the market quickly after it went into effect. Now imagine the trouble, the early internet providing universities had - since all the internet is build upon TCP/IP, not ISO OSI…

  47. First of all: my colleagues and I were positively surprised by the article. And by the recommendation at the end ;-) In 2004, we tried our best to understand what was considered ‘cutting edge’ by you guys. The Web Guidelines were the result of that. In 2006 they were formalised by Ministerial Decision.

    In Martijn Senden’s comment it was already mentioned: the ‘Ministerial decision on the quality of central government web sites’ is not a law. It is mandatory to comply for web site owners from the central government, but they’re not fined (or worse…) in case they don’t. Compliance - or lack thereof - is made transparent: it measured through automated testing and manual inspection, and the results are published. When compliance fails, a member of parliament can question the responsible minister about it. This actually happened just one week ago.

    The ministerial decision is one of the components in what can be called a framework by now. At present, the framework consists of:

    • A quality model, known as ‘the Web Guidelines’, based on open standards including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (besides the Dutch version there’s an archived English version; translation of the current version hopefully will start soon);
    • An automated test tool, that comes in three versions: a public 1-10 pages version, an automated sampling version (20 URLs per site, meant for large scale monitoring) and a full-blown version (100+ URLs per site, meant for compliance testing). The tool is highly UWEM 1.0 compliant. An English translation of the tool is not yet available;
    • Integration of the results of manual inspection conforming to the WCAG 1.0 priority 1 guidelines, known as the Quality Mark Drempelvrij.nl (Website is in Dutch only; Information in English about the quality mark is available elsewhere);
    • A style guide (Dutch only) for corporate web sites of ministries (and related sites), based on the Web Guidelines. See www.minvws.nl for an example of the implementation of this style guide;
    • The ‘Ministerial decision on the quality of central government web sites’. The Decision was made after a resolution by the parliament;
    • Work in progress: development of a normative document for all web guidelines, training and education curriculum, and a study of the possible role of draft international standard ISO/DIS 9241-151 (usability of web interfaces).

    The scope of the Web Guidelines differ from initiatives in other countries that are mentioned in some of the comments. Instead of focusing on the accessibility of websites, they are aimed at the quality of web sites, thus enabling better procurement for website owners (by providing an unambiguous reference) and providing recognition of the craftsmanship of the people that build web sites. Accessibility is ‘just’ an important quality aspect. This approach enabled us to develop a business case that better meets the needs of web site owners (they want good value for money and they want their website to be found by search engines), but still covers the needs of people with disabilities. It’s kind of a paradox: by widening the scope from accessibility to quality, it has become easier to reach the goal.

    @Gert Rieselmann’s comment on the sustainability of the ministerial decision: the actual guidelines are part of an addendum. That part it really easy to update. Conformance with the Web Guidelines is the starting point; the Web Guidelines themselves can be adapted (when the proper procedure is followed) when circumstances change (new specifications, outdated specifications etc).

  48. Now if they could just make using IE6 punishable by death…

    Standards are not laws. This Dutch law is just one more step towards the death of the web. Once the government starts regulating government sites like this, they won’t stop till they ban talking bad about them on the net, or even ban opensource software. Who knows? It’s just bad.

  49. To jun. Don’t worry OpenSource will never die :) OpenSource is connected with money - money you don’t have to spend - government is VERY interested in things like that. On the other hand there is one problem with OpenSource and money - it’s called “support”, which sometimes costs more than proprietary products. :)

  50. What a pity that in Poland almost all goverment web sites are bad. Around 99%. :-(

  51. @Jun’s comment: You wrote:

    This Dutch law is just one more step towards the death of the web.

    When a government decides that its own websites should possess a certain quality level, to ensure that no one is excluded from access to the information and services that the government itself puts online, in what way does it contribute to the death of the web?

    In my opinion, the opposite is the case here. In the past decade, we have just begun exploring the possibilities that the web has to offer. People that are limited in the physical life can greatly benefit form those opportunities. But the way new technologies are applied can easily and unnecessarily lead to new digital divides. In my opinion, allowing these divides to exist and even to grow is a step towards the death of the web, not measures that try to prevent them.

  52. Has anybody researched which countries have mandated guidelines in place for government web sites (beyond disability legislation, I mean web standards for government agencies)?

    Here in New Zealand they are a directive mandated by Cabinet, and I believe the Australians do the same. Good for the Dutch! I understand the UK has Web Guidelines but without a mandate behind them? And Canada has a mandated Common Look and Feel standard.

    Ours were first released (as guidelines only) in 2001 - compliance became mandatory from Jan 1 2006. I would suggest that they’ve brought some life into government web sites here; the existence of the mandatory Guidelines has ‘raised the bar’ on agencies and there’s now much more thought, effort and quality going into developing usable, accessible sites.

    They aren’t all fantastic, but they’re moving in the right direction. Any experiences from other countries with mandated guidelines would be interesting.

  53. Here in France, there is a law (2005) :

    … the governmental sites must be accessible ….

    But we still awaiting the “decree of application” (to know how and what to make exactly).

    I hope it will be in the same direction that Dutch.

    • when creating a new website, use a Strict doctype

    Does that mean valid Strict markup, or that you should only use it, erroneus markup or not? :)

    I think the way Netherlands have done it is a good one indeed. Of course, more strain on making the websites work better, but sure it’ll be well worth it. :D

  54. Proud to be Dutch as well.

  55. This framework is a very good initiative that other governments could and should follow.

    Perhaps it would be wise to translate it into English. I am sure that it will provoke lots of discussion and maybe even follow-ups. Though i am not sure if (paying for) translation was the intention of the Dutch government.

    Nevertheless i am positive that it will be translated into English when the texts are given to the public domain, for instance by putting them on a wikipedia page or something.

    Perhaps an idea?

  56. Update: The English version is now available at http://webrichtlijnen.overheid.nl/english/, including a translated version of the test tool.

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