What is digital accessibility?

Web accessibility: a social imperative

Video produced by the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis, as part of the Access-Key program (subtitles available).

Definition, scope

Digital accessibility consists in making it possible for everyone, especially persons with disabilities, to use computer hardware and software, as well as to consult and create digital resources, on devices of all kinds (computers, mobile telephones, tablets, etc.).

Digital accessibility is concerned with all types of disability: visual, hearing, physical, cognitive, technical, etc., including those due to age, thus addressing a population of millions of people in France alone.

Rather than adapting products to persons with disabilities, we prefer the notion of universal design, which seeks to create products that can be used by everyone, regardless of sex, age, situation or disability. These improvements are just best practices (editorial, ergonomic, coding, etc.), which improve access to digital sites and applications for all.

The regulatory framework

In Europe digital accessibility is understood as a citizenship obligation: the widest possible circulation of digital accessibility products and services promotes professional placement, social integration, and personal autonomy. The video above represents an excellent example.

In France, the law n° 2005-102 of 11 February 2005, "Equality of rights and opportunity, participation and citizenship of disabled persons”, provides, in Article 47, for “the accessibility of online public communication services of the State and local authorities, and the public establishments that depend on them”, as a first step.

In the United States, digital accessibility has been in place since 1998, with the adoption by Congress of an amendment commonly known as “Section 508”, which deals with the accessibility of federal sites and government electronic resources.


Since 1997, the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the web standards authority, has been engaged with issues of accessibility, creating the WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative). The WAI has issued 61 recommendations for making the web accessible, especially in relation to assistive technologies used by disabled persons.

On this basis, national standards have been created. They enumerate the tests to be applied to web pages as well as the criteria for validating their accessibility. The reference document is rather technical and is for use by professionals only. It is used for auditing sites and measuring their level of accessibility, for correcting sites that are inaccessible, and for implementing best practices from the start of a project. Note that accessibility places demands on everyone involved on a web project: creators, designers, developers, web coders, editors, etc.

In France, the current national standard is the RGAA (Référentiel Général d'Accessibilité pour les Administrations).

Sciences Po thus uses the RGAA reference standard, level double A, for its certification. The attestation of compliance for this site as well as the contact person for accessibility is available using the “Accessibility” link at the bottom of each page.

Accessibility ensures universal access to the web through different means:

  • improving features for browsers (personalized viewing, favorites, history) and sites (efficient and permanent structure, rapid access, etc.)
  • ensuring access to all information, especially the content of images, videos, and animations
  • offering alternative content, if necessary
  • facilitating access through the use of assistive technologies

Assistive technologies

Assistive technologies enable or facilitate the use of computers and access to content, whether office applications or web, as well as content creation. They include:

  • software aids, like screen readers and magnifiers
  • hardware aids, including mice, keyboards, microphones, trackballs, Braille terminals, etc.

Visual disability

At the Sciences Po library, there are soundproof booths equipped for the visually impaired. They have voice synthesizers, screen magnifiers, character recognition for scanned documents, and a Braille keyboard and printer.

Hearing disability

To ensure access for the hearing impaired to videos, or more generally to events such as conferences and debates, including:

  • simultaneous textual transcription on screens
  • sign language interpretation
  • subtitling of video
  • textual transcription

On this website, we have opted for a text transcript for each video, providing the content of the entire interview (for the hearing impaired) and a description of important onscreen information (for the visually impaired).