Helsinki is developing a new operating model with the intention of changing the requirement on service accessibility from an obligation into a strength of the City. A new Act on the offering of digital services based on the EU accessibility directive entered into force in Finland on the 23rd of September. This act obligates authorities such as the City of Helsinki to implement all publicly available digital services in an accessible way.
Accessibility means web services which are easier to use and have been designed and implemented with extensive consideration of the needs of various user groups. For example, blindness or other limitations should not prevent the use of web services.
Accessibility means better service usability for all
The aim of the City of Helsinki is to integrate accessibility already into the development of services. This improves service accessibility for us all, regardless of whether we experience difficulties, for example, in the use of the keyboard or in the perception of colours. The result is a more effective service. We at the City of Helsinki have also observed that the best accessibility and usability are attained when the service is designed to be accessible from the very beginning, instead of attempting to make it accessible afterwards through corrections. Correcting afterwards is also a more expensive and ineffective way of fulfilling the obligations.
“Service accessibility is a nice thing and useful for us all,” as project manager for Helsinki’s accessibility model Mirjam Heikkinen puts it.
A common tool set is the solution for ensuring accessibility
The City of Helsinki, like all other service providers, faces the problem that service owners and developers do not yet possess sufficient knowledge of the requirements related to accessibility and the changes required by them in comparison with earlier practices. This has led to attempts to correct already published services so as to meet the accessibility requirements, while services under development have been produced based on unclear requirements. This often results in avoidable costs and an unclear distribution of responsibilities between suppliers and contractors.
To harmonise accessibility requirements, the City of Helsinki has, in cooperation with Siteimprove Oy’s accessibility experts, initiated a development project in which a comprehensive accessibility model is created for the city’s services. The model specifies how accessibility is to be considered throughout the service lifecycle. Simultaneously, it creates tools and methods with which the realisation of accessibility is ensured in practice.
Fulfilment of the accessibility requirements is not difficult from a technical point of view. However, a prerequisite for this is the ability to consider the requirements already in the service development phase, and designers and developers must be familiar with the new solutions resulting from the requirements. In the best case accessibility can even be a driver of service development, as it clarifies the features required from web services.
The City already has positive experiences with the accessibility model
Helsinki’s accessibility model has already been tested in the development of the City’s own service map. The model produced excellent results in that connection. This observation is important, as Helsinki strives to be the most functional city in the world. This means that accessibility should be interpreted not as an obligation, but a strength through which the City’s digitalisation target can be achieved.
Helsinki’s accessibility model will be deployed piece by piece already during the development phase. Our aim is to have the entire model ready for presentation during the spring of 2021.