More on the Web Guidelines

The standards revolution here in Holland proceeds apace, so I though I'd give you an update. Most importantly, I have finally managed to find an English translation of the Guidelines, which will allow non-Dutch-speakers to judge them for themselves. I added a few notes to clarify translation points or vague spots.

One of the most important comments on my previous Guidelines post was: "Who's going to enforce them?". The answer seems to be: nobody. Far from being a weak point in the standards revolution, this non-enforcement is one of the strongest reasons in favour of implementing the Guidelines.

My previous post was incorrect on one point: the Guidelines form not a law, but ... well ... a guideline, an advice. They're not binding in any way.

All national Dutch ministries have voluntarily agreed to implement the Guidelines as soon as possible. During the next few weeks I'll be able to judge (at least) two ministries' intent for myself, but the very fact that they're asking standards-aware web developers to help them out already shows they're serious about the Guidelines.

Other than the ministries, no government branch (or corporate entity) is required to implement the Guidelines. However, this lack of enforcement is expected to speed up their adoption. If the Guidelines were required by law, most government branches would get all defensive and buttoned-up, and would remain stuck in a "we've always done it like this, so why change it?" mentality in order to defend their hard-won autonomy.

Conversely, now that the Guidelines have the status of advice, they're not threatening anybody's acquired rights, but are simply a series of best practices promulgated by a government body known for its specialist knowledge of this area, and helped along by the example the national ministries are setting. Therefore, the Guidelines have become much more palatable for other government branches.

It all boils down to politics.

Although I feel the Web Guidelines could become a Dutch export product, I'm not certain if this "advisory approach" is suited to other countries that are used to a more hierarchical way of working. Web developers and government entities in other countries will have to decide these sensitive issues for themselves.

In addition, there are quite a few groups and committees here in Holland (and I suppose in the rest of Europe, too) that work on accessibility and 'inclusive governance' in all kinds of ways; not just the Web versions. At least two Dutch committees are rumoured to have the Web Guidelines on their agendas, for the simple and sufficient reason that they're already there and are ready to be discussed. The Web Guidelines could therefore grow to become an example for accessibility and inclusion guidelines and advices in other sectors.

All in all I'm quite happy with the progress that's being made. Although government, being a bureaucratic entity, moves slowly, it is definitely moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile I'm going to concentrate on spreading the word within the Dutch-speaking web development community, in close cooperation with the WaSP ILG. Practical possibilities are currently under discussion, and I'll publish them as soon as they move beyond the tentative phase.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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Comments are closed.

1 Posted by Arjan Eising on 26 March 2007 | Permalink

Nice list Peter-Paul, I hope it will help non-Dutch web workers to build their websites in a better way, as well as other governments.
Mention there is also a more detailed list on this, available as download at (MS Word, 1.54 MB)

2 Posted by Nico van der Meer on 27 March 2007 | Permalink

I just started out with ASP.NET 2.0 and was involved in making web applications for the Dutch government for some years now. I'm pleased to see the web standards being adopted, and I'm researching it as much as possible. I am aiming for XHTML 1.0 Strict compliant sites, but I find it hard to do that with all the inline styles and scripts being generated by Visual Studio 2005 regular controls. Any hints/links? It would be nice if WaSP would place some help on their "Learn" page to help out developers dealing with their IDEs.

Writing valid xhtml 1.0 strict isn't hard. But to let the IDE do it for you...

Also, convincing the customer to use web standards isn't that hard. To convince collegues that work for unaware customers is much harder.

Finally, isn't Drempels Vrij just an organization making their own money for a simple "Drempels Vrij" sign? All of a sudden, govenment agencies all want to pay for that sign on their site. Why? Their own free "Drempels Weg" sign would be enough?!

3 Posted by Jansons on 28 March 2007 | Permalink

Nice work PPK! Good job. Thanks!

4 Posted by Scott on 30 March 2007 | Permalink

Thanks PPK for the English translation, and thanks to Arjan for that Word document explaining the rationale behind the checkpoints.

5 Posted by BAS on 11 April 2007 | Permalink

I just finished an HTML/CSS job at the Ministerie van Justitie (Justice Department), and it was good to see how these guidelines have definitely made people aware; both developers and people providing the content of the ministry websites.

However, as I often see with commercial companies as well, people tend to regard the phenomenon of accessibility more as being extremely anal about tidy mark-up and jamming their code into the W3C validator every 2 minutes, then actually having a website that can be used by anyone.

In this particular case, politics added another dimension to this; for example, one ministry had put all the content of their website that wouldn't get through the accessibility tests on external pages.

I say, accessibility should not be tested using guidelines, but by using users.