Looking back on more than 15 years with Access Denmark
How does the Danish accessibility label certification work?
The Danish accessibility label is a national label in Denmark and in Iceland. In Denmark since 2003 and in Iceland since 2010. It is run by a private organization - God Adgang - Access Denmark - and is based on a set of criteria developed by the Danish Standardization Institute in cooperation with The Danish Oganisations of People with Disability and representatives from the companies/buildings involved. (f.ex. the ministry of culture was involved in defining the criteria to museums a.o.) The criteria expresses the legislation and accessibility recommondations. The label system is developed to fit best practice in both existing and new buildings.
The criteria cover demands from 7 types of users. Wheelchairusers, hand, arm and walking impaired, visual impaired, hearing impaired, asthma and allergy, cognitive/mental needs, and people with reading difficulties. Important is that a building or a place can be accessible to some people but maybe not to all.
The label is based on an expert audit made by an auditor from Access Denmark. A very thorough registration is made covering criteria from all 7 types of users. The data are used for two purposes:
- Information to the end user where fact sheets are generated with pictures and detailed information on the accessibility.
- A feedback report to the company/building stating the present accessibility conditions, where the gabs are and what can be done.
Information system - accessdenmark.com (godadgang.dk)
Accessdenmark.com is a marketing platform, where companies or authorities can present information on accessibility in order to achieve more customers, get more satisfied customers, new type of customers, improving their image, avoid bad publicity or simply communicate about the accessibility so that customers can make an informed decision on how to visit the place.
The overall purpose is to mainstream the information on accessibility and that everyone have access to the information needed along with prices, opening hours etc. In Denmark information on accessibility is not a natural part of the basic information about a place, and getting reliable information can be a barrier. All factsheet are to be found on godadgang.dk /accessdenmark.com and we cooperate with other sites, so that the fact sheets will be spread as much as possible to relevant users. Today we deliver information to some very important sites in Denmark for instance visitdenmark.com and sundhed.dk - the public site about "where to find a medical clinic" (doctors, dentist, physiotherapist a.o.)
The feedback report
The report is a very important worktool and central for our services and ongoing dialog with the company/building. If the minimum criteria for one or more of the 7 groups are fulfilled the mark for this/these group/s are given. If the criteria are not fulfilled an action plan is made with suggestions for improving the circumstances that need to be changed in order to fulfill all of the criteria for all 7 groups. The feedback provide the management with knowledge about the circumstances of importance to the accessibility and suggests improvements that can be done. Our auditor pays a visit to the company/building every third year or when needed and we support the management in every matter needed concerning accessibility.
The authorities or companies decide themselves if they want the Access Denmark label. The label is not a part of a public task or certification/certificate (yet) but a private and voluntary initiative. We don't have mandatory accessibility audits in Denmark.
Members of the Access Denmark Label
All places marked with Access Denmark label are members of the labelsystem. The companies pay an entrance fee according to the efforts needed to make the first audit/registration and pay a small member fee every year. Every third year we pay a return visit to update the information and the company pay a fee according to the work done. In the first couple of years the organization were funded by public and private funds but today the activities and member fees finance the label.
Why did you choose this approach?
15 years ago the label was introduced as a very practical and educational
tool. We had and still have plenty of literature and knowledge about user needs
and checklists of how to build accessible, but nobody reads them. A hotel
director has other things that come first. So the label was formed so that it
becomes relevant - and contains some advantages relevant to the business. We
demonstrate accessibility in a building that the owner knows - and not as a
theoretical/general knowledge. A hotel can work with accessibility based on the
feedback in the report without knowing much in advance. And maybe you may want
to do more first you have started.
We have seen other countries focusing very much on education and it is important too. But to try to introduce f. instance to the tourism sector the need of sending employees on an accessibility course is very difficult. The companies have so many tasks allready. And furthermore the staff changes very rapidly within the tourism sector so knowledge come and go. So we chose a tool with educational side effects instead of traditional knowledge building.
Important were also that the data are used both for internal and external purposes. We have seen forgotten accessibility reports on forgotten shelves and the information is not used by anyone. Now we have information that can be used as a marketing tool, data are taken care of and updated and can work as a planning tool.
What were and are the greatest challenges in implementing this type of label program?
The label is voluntary and we have to emphasize the advantages again and again and work hard to explain the benefits of working with accessibility. Most people don't see the need or assume that the accessibility is fine. Accessibility is not accepted as a discipline of highly competent character. Everyone knows a wheelchairuser who can be asked…. - what about the rest!
Often we hear the argument: People with disabilities call us and ask about the circumstances. My answer is - what would happen if you approached all of your customers in that way? It is the only target group where some companies assume that the customers arrive without a marketing effort or product development.
A registration system is needed. A very large one. There are so many details for each group that an audit is not possible without a data system that keeps track on when the criteria for different groups are fulfilled and where to suggest what improvements. A labelsystem is an expensive service in the development fase.
What lessons have you learned since you started?
The acceptance of the label as an official label is A and O for the implementation. The label is created in consensus and in cooperation with all the right players to whom it may be relevant. Users, companies, authorities a.o. Everyone has been heard and have contributed. And we have a case where nobody disagrees.
15 years ago some people predicted that the label would die, when the money ran out but we are still here and are doing well. 15 years ago consultancy on accessibility was nothing that the danish building industry were ready or willing to pay for, but we have succeeded with the combination of marketing and consultancies services towards our members and the label are today used for different purposes. This is a good development because accessibility and universel design are disciplines that belong within the building industry at the same level as energy and environmental strategies.
We take care of everything for the customer. Compared to the environmental labels the customer has to spend a lot of time to prepare to obtain the label. Because accessibility is "difficult" it is important that we offer to do the work.
It is hard to be small. Access Denmark is a small organization and we depend on that the Danish disability organizations and players within the tourism industry, health sector a.o. use the tool in their political work. That Access Denmark is suggested as a way to go in political papers and decisions. We have obtained to be mentioned in public procurement as a criteria and that is very important for the acceptance of the label and for generating new places to be labelled.
The quality has to be sky high - even though it is a very small niche the envy and down talking can be unpleasant. We have to deliver value for money. Everyone has an opinion on accessibility.
If you knew then, what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I don't think that I would have done anything differently but that does not mean that we don't have to develop from here and forward. Example: we use auditors because accessibility was not a common implemented knowledge 15 years ago. Today we are able to find some competent employees among the staff in for instance the municipalities. We will develop our services so that the auditor tasks (after a short education) can be taken care of by external auditors according to a licens. But if we had done that 15 years ago we would not have been successful.
I would not have done things differently but I would have done more of everything. Focus on political awareness, more marketing, seeking cooperation with relevant organizations, unions a.o. more news releases, seeking financial support to expand the staff and so on…….. I am sure that we will have plenty to do the next 15 years.
Call us or write to us if you need more information about our services.
firstname.lastname@example.org - phone +45 51 34 35 96