Accessibility means that everyone has equal access to a service. As traditional services increasingly go online, accessibility has become even more important. For this reason, the EU introduced the Accessibility Directive. In Finland, its requirements are included in the Act on the Provision of Digital Services.
The Act on the Provision of Digital Services applies to the public sector and certain private companies. Digital services offered by them must meet the accessibility requirements. For instance, it must be possible to access the online service with as many different devices and browsers as possible, also by means of assistive devices, if necessary. An accessible service must also have comprehensible content and be easy to grasp.
Clear standard language
Even if technically accessible, a website is not entirely accessible if its content is difficult to understand. The text may be unnecessarily difficult to read or written in a wrong language. Online services must also be linguistically accessible.
The easiest way to produce linguistically accessible content is to write it in clear standard language, that is, in easily understandable language without jargon. Clear language is not the same thing as plain language, which is language where the structure and the vocabulary have been adapted to make it easier than standard language. The content and the target group are decisive factors in determining if clear standard language is enough or if plain language is needed.
Accessibility benefits everyone
Although the Act on the Provision of Digital Services mainly applies to public online services, accessibility also benefits other digital service providers. Issues such as the equal treatment of customers, a better user experience and access to a wider market should interest all companies and organisations.
By 2025, the EU’s Accessibility Directive will extend to private companies in certain sectors, such as online stores and audiovisual services. Accessibility is becoming the norm, which is why every online company should plan its digital services to be accessible – both technically and linguistically.
What can companies do?
What accessibility actually refers to is a digital service’s ease of use, which every company and organisation should naturally aim to achieve. A website is easy to use when there are no technical challenges and the content is easy to understand.
Companies publishing audio and video content should already ensure accessibility. It is a good idea to subtitle videos even if the law does not require it yet because many people watch videos without sound. Adding translated subtitles to a video makes it even more accessible and capable of reaching a wider customer base. In audio recordings, such as podcasts, accessibility could be improved by transcribing them as written text.
When are translations needed?
At the moment, accessibility requirements do not require videos to be subtitled in other languages. In other words, the guidelines mandate that a Finnish video is subtitled in Finnish, a Swedish video in Swedish and so on. However, it is a user-friendly choice to provide translated subtitles, especially if subtitling can be turned off.
Having the content translated strengthens the multicultural dimension of accessibility. Services must also be accessible to those who speak a language other than the language in which the content was originally published. In Finland, public services are designed for speakers of Finnish or Swedish; however, in the light of accessibility, there is an increasing need to reach immigrants as well.
According to a study conducted in 2020 by translation and localisation market research company Common Sense Advisory, 40% of consumers will never buy from foreign-language websites and 65% of buyers prefer content published in their native language. So, the question is: Can companies any longer afford monolingualism or the over-estimation of their customers’ language skills, even if they are not yet subject to the Accessibility Directive?