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Dutch Ambassadors for Accessible Websites: an advocacy experiment

From: phoenixl <phoenixl@sonic.net>
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 2002 08:05:04 -0700
Message-Id: <200207091505.g69F54T3029968@newbolt.sonic.net>
To: w3c-wai-ig@w3.org

Dutch Ambassadors for Accessible Websites: an advocacy experiment 
By Andrew Freeway (Andrew_Freeway@yahoo.com) 

Who better than disabled people themselves can convince companies to
create better access to important Internet sites! Perhaps this Dutch
experience can be repeated in other countries.

WHY? 
The Dutch National Board for Accessibility appointed 4 ambassadors to
assess important Dutch internet sites on their accessibility for all.
The project was called No Barriers (Drempels Weg) and its main goal was
to stimulate an accessible internet for everyone and to get more people
with a disability making use of the internet. No Barriers also wanted to
motivate website designers to make as many sites as possible completely
accessible for everyone.

WHO? 
Jacko van Dijk, Pascal Ursinus, Paul Erkens and Theo van Leur were
appointed by state secretary Margot Vliegenthart as the No Barriers
ambassadors. Each of them represents a group of disabled people to which
they belong themselves. Their tasks: create a relationship with
organizations that are responsible for important Dutch websites, to
inform the state secretary about their efforts and to involve their
group of disabled people in this process.

All 4 have experience in using the internet, but on the issue of
accessibility their ideas vary. All 4 have composed their own back-up
group to support them in their activities. Through awareness and
positive feedback they will try to improve the accessibility of internet
sites.

Of course all improvements are based on W3C standards. 

Jacko van Dijk represents people with a physical disability. He has a
muscular disease. Therefore he can hardly uses his limbs and sits in a
wheelchair.

Pascal Ursinus represents people with a hearing disability. Due to a
progressive hearing loss he is now more or less deaf but was able to
develop oral language knowledge.

Paul Erkens represents people with a bad or no vision. He is blind
himself and has a kidney disorder. Internet changed his life completely,
as he said.

Theo van Leur is an intellectual challenged man and represents people
with learning disabilities. Since he lives on his own, the internet
became an important part of his life.

WHAT? 
During the year 2001 their goal was to reach an agreement with at least
100 Dutch organizations to create or change their internet sites into
barrier free sites. By March 2002 they achieved to have such an
agreement with 127 important Dutch companies.

This agreement is based on the most important aspects of a particular
website that should be improved. An important incentive for the
companies to reach the agreement was the fact that the ambassadors
visited these companies personally. Each of them showed the personal
applicability of the standards in a specific site. The ambassadors
confronted CEO's and other decision makers with the virtual barriers
they encountered while visiting their site. And based on the standards
and their experience they were able to show a solution to this problem.
In most cases such a visit worked very well, because the people involved
were just not aware of the specific needs of disabled people and were
therefore ignoring the needs of an important part of society. If not for
moral or political correct reasons, a smart company also would like to
reach people with disabilities for commercial reasons. Especially the
e-commerce part of website could be very interesting for many disabled
people.

In order to have a real and lasting effect of the No Barriers agreements, it was also necessary to inform disabled people about the possibilities of internet. The 4 ambassadors used their own back-up group 'to spread the message' and got a high profile in magazines and sites of groups they were more or less representing. 

HOW? 
After checking carefully with the organizations of disabled people, 4 target groups were identified: people with a physical disability, with a visual disability, with a hearing disability and with a learning disability. Each group delivered an ambassador: someone with knowledge of the needs and demands of his peers and with hands-on experience with internet. After their appointment, all ambassadors created a feed-back group among their peers. This group was going to advise the ambassador on specific disability related issues, but was also a portal to all the other people with a similar disability so they could be stimulated to use the internet more frequently. The next step was making a list of sites of companies with a high profile. Especially e-commerce applications were covered, but also sites with an important informative function. All these sites were assessed by all 4 ambassadors. Appointments were made with the companies and the assessments were talked through. These !
visits had to result in signing a declaration to improve the assessed site in accordance with the advice given by the ambassadors. 

The whole project was supported by a project office. All administrative and secretarial service were given by this office as well as strategic and policy support. 

NEXT? 
This year, 2002, this successful method will be continued but no longer
on a national level. Every 3 months another region will 'adopt' the No
Barriers program by appointing its own ambassadors on a local level.
They will visit local companies to assess their sites and reach an
agreement on improving these sites as far as accessibility is concerned.
The program will be supported by a lot of free publicity and is an
excellent way to improve the awareness among companies as well as
disabled people themselves.

In the mean time, the national No Barriers program will monitor the
compliance of the organizations who signed the 'declaration' and give
support to the local initiatives.

For more information on this program you can contact the Dutch National
Board for Accessibility (Landelijk Bureau Toegankelijkheid) at their web
sites www.drempelsweg.nl or www.lbt.nl or by email at info@lbt.nl.
Received on Tuesday, 9 July 2002 11:05:06 GMT

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