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NWO-I provides web accessibility for people with disabilities

Millions of Dutch people have one or more disabilities. Examples are people with reduced vision, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with physical or motor disabilities or dyslexia. Therefore, the Dutch government has determined by law that everybody must be able to use the websites of public institutions such as NWO-I and the NWO Institutes. That is sometimes referred to as digital accessibility. The NWO Institutes and the NWO-I office have started making the and the institute websites digitally accessible by modifying documents, images, sound, technology and design so that these sites can be opened, listened to and viewed without any hindrances. Indeed, everybody benefits from these kind of improvements. As an employee, you can also contribute to this effort.

Socially responsible

Although it is a legal obligation, NWO-I also wants to take its social responsibility with respect to digital accessibility. A properly accessible website is great for all users. Offering digital content in an accessible way means that it is well ordered and easy to read, that it is simple to find results via search engines and that it is displayed in a convenient manner on mobile phones or tablets. The tools that we will add for people with a specific disability often benefit other users just as much. For example, you can have a webpage read aloud while you are tidying up your office drawer at the same time. Or you will be able to watch a video in a noisy environment even without headphones, thanks to the subtitles that will become compulsory for videos in the near future.

‘Videos will soon be subtitled at all times, which benefits everybody, especially in a crowded train’

How will NWO-I tackle this?

The institutes and office will have their websites audited to determine which parts of a website do and do not satisfy the requirements for digital accessibility. Based on this audit, each website owner will publish an accessibility statement, which describes the level at which the website performs. After that, the institutes and NWO-I office will step by step realise improvements to the websites to ensure that these really are digitally accessible. Several institutes are already working on a new website and, in these cases, the audit will be performed slightly later.

How can you contribute right now?

At the institutes and office, it is mainly the Communication departments that will work on adjusting the websites. But all other employees can also pitch in to improve digital accessibility. Here are several tips and examples to get you started:

Use a new document
If you create an Office file, you should always start with a new document. Many improvements have been made to Office applications in recent years, which have rendered documents more accessible. If you reuse or copy an existing file, then there is a strong chance that you will miss such improvements. That would be a shame!

Use the standard templates suites
The institutes and office make use of a standard templates suite. This contains templates for various documents. These have mainly been designed to ensure that your documents satisfy the house style. However, they have the added advantage that your document automatically becomes more accessible as well. If you use the predefined headings, bullet points, tables et cetera, then the metadata that is needed by the text-to-voice software for visually impaired people will be routinely added to these. Do not format things yourself. It is possible to change the type, size and colour of a font manually in a text so that it looks exactly like a template heading. But this means that for the text-to-voice software, your text remains a standard text without metadata.

Copy without formatting
If you copy text from other documents, you should always ensure that the text you copy is “plain text”. For example, copy it to Notepad first and from there to your target file. If you do not do that, you will copy all the visible and invisible formatting elements with the text. These can seriously disrupt the settings in your target file with the result that it becomes less accessible.

Structure your text clearly
Divide your text into sections and, where necessary, provide sections with concise headings. Also, make sure you structure the headings. You can easily do that via the headings menu at the top of your Word screen. Always use “Heading 1” for the highest level in your heading hierarchy, for a level lower always use “Heading 2” and for the level below that “Heading 3”, and so forth. For a bulleted list, use a numbered or unnumbered list and not a running text with point a), point b), point c), or hyphens.

Use clear language
According to the accessibility guidelines, we should write our texts in such a way that these can be read by visitors with a low level of literacy (adults who have difficulty with reading, writing and/or arithmetic, and often have limited digital skills as well). Besides, people with an average or above-average reading level would also rather not read unnecessarily complex information or a text full of technical jargon. You should avoid long sentences and sections too. Sometimes jargon and acronyms are unavoidable; in such cases, you should explain these once, when you first use them in your text.

Be careful with bilingualism
Do not mix Dutch and English text in a single document. Text-to-voice software cannot cope well with this. If the software is reading a Dutch text aloud and it suddenly stumbles across an English section, it will read this as a phonetic Dutch text and vice versa. Therefore, make sure that all parts of the text have been written in the same language.

More information

For extra information about the legislation, and for a more detailed explanation, please see (in Dutch).

Newsletter Inside NWO-I, May 2022
You can find the archive of the newsletter Inside NWO-I on the NWO-I website.
This interview is part of the
interview series “NWO celebrates…”.

Confidental Infomation