Future of legally binding accessibility in feature development of critical digital services

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Accessibility is a human right. Despite the need for action, accessibility legislation remains scarce. The European Accessibility Act introduces a minimum of legally required accessibility in critical digital services. Following enforcement in 2025, public and private sector websites and apps, including banking, insurance, and telecommunications, must meet a minimum level of compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Despite the regulations’ limitations, the Accessibility Act is a turning point for digital accessibility in the European Union. A case study approach explores emerging themes, challenges, and opportunities professionals encounter in the digital feature development of critical services in Finland. The research results describe the status quo and juxtapose future-oriented actions in scenario mappings. The empirical research focuses on the production process of features. Features are the smallest entity within a more extensive scalable software system. By focusing on the granular feature development process, the research aims to pinpoint potential challenges and areas for improvement on the individual and organizational levels. The participating organizations were selected based on their compliance date with the European Digital Accessibility Act. The research applies a between-method triangulation approach and a within-method triangulation approach. The method mix included a literature review, in-depth interviews, and field study research. The qualitative research included explorative interviews with accessibility experts from academia, non-governmental agencies, and governmental oversight agencies. Subsequently, semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with professionals working in three distinct organizational structures: public sector organizations, private sector organizations, and consultancies. The findings of the empirical research suggest that the lack of legal enforcement created an environment where organizations might not be aware of digital accessibility; thus, they do not provide resources for implementing accessibility practices in feature development. As a result, the findings indicate that awareness is a prerequisite and starting point when implementing digital accessibility practices to avoid misconceptions. Furthermore, organizational ownership and strategic guidance, oversight, and resources enhance the implementation of digital accessibility practices. Lastly, continuous performance and improvement of accessibility practices provide the most optimal environment to produce accessible features.
Leinonen, Teemu
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Tråp, Sasha
digital accessibility, accessibility, software development, digital product design, accessibility act, new media design, case study, public sector
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