Digital accessibility at the VNG

13 April 2022

What are the Dutch municipalities doing about digital accessibility?

“You just have to get started, and the rest will come naturally”

As project leader of the Digital Accessibility Booster Team within the Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG), Marlies Klooster wants all municipalities to make information digitally accessible as quickly as possible. She explained in a digital interview how she and her team, a small group of five driven people, want to tackle this.

Tell us a bit more about yourself?

So my name is Marlies. I am now working within the VNG, but I have not always done that. I started my career as a web copy writer shortly after graduating from my studies in Theater and Film Studies. I have worked for a long time at the UWV, where digital accessibility – given the attention to digitization for the service provision – is of course also a major theme. After a while I decided to start my own business. That's how I ended up at the VNG. About a year ago there was a budget for a Digital Accessibility Booster Team, of which I became project leader.

What does the VNG do and what role does your team play in this?

The VNG is an association; all municipalities in the Netherlands are members. Instead of each municipality looking after its own interests, the VNG represents the municipalities at ministries, the cabinet and national politics. We also provide advice on matters that concern all municipalities, such as digital accessibility. We help municipalities so that their websites and mobile applications can be added to the accessibility register. And we're not just talking about the main website of the municipality where the local news is published and where residents can log in. It is also about other apps and websites they use, for example an app that arranges the collection of household waste. These are the services that are often less quickly adapted at municipalities.

How do you approach that, supporting municipalities in achieving those objectives?

We mainly focus on three target groups. The first is the board of the municipality, i.e. the Municipal Council and the Municipal Executive. After all, they determine decision-making within the municipality and have a decisive role in how and how quickly everything is arranged. The second group is the civil servants who work for the municipalities. They are often highly motivated to do this. They can also discuss it with each other through a community that we have set up. For example, civil servants from a municipality such as Eindhoven, where they have come a long way with digital accessibility, help civil servants from other municipalities. Finally, we also focus on the suppliers of the products and services. Municipalities usually purchase services related to digitization. For example, they let external parties build their websites. We also want to reach those parties, so that everyone involved knows what we want to achieve and what is needed to achieve this.

How do you see the continuation of the project for you?

We hope, of course, that all municipalities, especially those that are not that far yet, will work hard on their digital accessibility, in all areas. I think the problem is that when municipalities start with digital accessibility, they quickly lose sight of the wood for the trees. It is not a simple push of a button, but everyone in the organization must know what is expected of him or her. In addition, research must be carried out for all websites and applications to ensure that municipalities can draw up and publish the accessibility statements. And that's just the beginning: after that comes a period of implementing improvements. My advice: you just have to do it. Of course it doesn't all happen by itself, but you just have to get started. Then the rest will come naturally. After all, taking small steps forward is much better than standing still. And not unimportant: with small steps you also meet the legal obligation.

The Digital Accessibility Booster Team will be there for at least another year to support the municipalities and communal schemes (GGD, Environmental Services, Safety Regions, etc.) where necessary. If, just like with our team, there is the will from every municipality to embrace the accessible future, then it will probably be sorted out quickly.