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Beyond translation: Website accessibility in Japan



If you are looking to expand your brand’s horizons and to market your products or services in Japan, your website will be crucial to your success.

Website accessibility in Japan

But merely translating your existing web content won’t be sufficient to yield impressive results.


Web content must be localised to better appeal to a Japanese audience. Many sites would benefit from localisation of both text and graphics.

Indeed, a complete redesign would often prove necessary to meet the expectations of Japanese consumers and then there is the issue of accessibility to consider.

What is accessibility and why is it so crucial in Japan?


What is website accessibility?

An accessible website is one that people with disabilities can use without encountering barriers. Regarding websites, disabilities are considered to include sight loss, speech and motor difficulties, hearing loss, cognitive impairments and broken limbs. Disabled users should be able to access the same information and complete the same tasks as any other user.


Website accessibility in Japan

Barriers to accessibility are many and varied. Those barriers include websites that aren’t compatible with screen readers and any content that cannot be navigated using only a keyboard. Further barriers are inaccessible PDF files, missing alternative text for images, and media without alternatives such as transcripts, audio descriptions or captions together with low colour contrast and text sizing.

When updating or creating a website to target an overseas market, barriers to accessibility must be addressed. It is easy to see that simply translating text could never be enough.


Alternative text for images, any audio descriptions, captions and multimedia content must all be both translated and localised. There are many further aspects of websites that should conform to accessibility standards and they are outlined in the standards published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).


Is web accessibility a legal requirement?

In many countries and territories including the UK, US, EU and Japan, web accessibility is a legal requirement for public bodies and in many countries, it is a requirement for private businesses. However, the applicable laws vary as do the levels of enforcement.

Website accessibility in Japan

The accessibility laws of most countries and territories are based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The guidelines have been updated several times since their initial publication in 1999. Such updates have been the result of consultation with the disabled community.


WCAG 2.2 is the latest version of the guidelines and encompasses more than 70 aspects of website visuals and functionality. These include text colour, text size, colour contrasts, text alternatives, headings, keyboard use and language. Recommended web standards are organised into three conformance levels: Level A (least strict), Level AA and Level AAA (most strict). Content that conforms to Level AA is considered to be reasonably accessible for most people with disabilities.


What is the accessibility law in Japan?

The Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) X 8341-3 is the regulation that governs web accessibility in Japan. This was revised in 2010 to require compliance with WCAG standards and now includes the success criteria of WCAG 2.0 Level AA.


Website accessibility in Japan

JIS guidelines are subject to updates every five years and so X 8341-3 could soon feature the success criteria of WCAG 2.2 which is larger in scope.


But while private sector businesses are encouraged to follow the standards, JIS X8341-3 does not require them to do so and includes only limited enforcement mechanisms. The act features terms such as “reasonable accommodation” which are open to interpretation.


Despite the vague nature of the terminology and the lack of enforcement, Website accessibility in Japan is typically better than in the EU. Why would that be the case?


Why bother conforming to JIS X8341-3?

You might be wondering why it is worth going to the expense of ensuring that your website conforms to Japanese regulations. After all, enforcement is limited, and the vague terminology could give you the proverbial get out of jail free card, whatever the nature of your site.


Website accessibility in Japan

But it is important to remember that Japan arrived somewhat late to the accessibility party and didn’t have a disability rights law equivalent to those in the West until 2014. The country is playing catch up and things are changing rapidly. It is inevitable that greater compliance with web accessibility standards will be required in the future. It is better to create a fully accessible website now rather than having to update your site when regulations or enforcement regimes are strengthened.


More importantly, it is any organisation’s interest to deliver a fully accessible website for Japanese markets.


Accessible online content enables a business to reach a significantly wider audience. More than 7% of the Japanese population lives with a disability and the population is aging. Indeed, the Japanese population is the oldest in the world. Over 28% of Japanese people are aged 65 or older and it is predicted that by 2036, a third of the population will be in that age group.

By 2036, many of those over the age of 65 will be from the generation that grew up with the internet and so they will use assistive technology for continued access.


Web accessibility for the elderly

Older people are more likely to suffer from disabilities that hinder internet usage such as visual impairment, hearing loss and cognitive decline.


Website accessibility in Japan

Today’s tech-savvy youngsters are tomorrow’s elderly web browsers with disabilities.

It is also worth noting that digital accessibility enhances the experience of all users. Website accessibility improves conversions and client retention. The websites that offer the best user experience tend to rank higher in search engine results. Highly accessible websites are excellent investments in any area of the world, despite the cost of building them.


While accessibility is particularly crucial in Japan courtesy of the ageing population, it is a serious issue just about anywhere.


Web accessibility for Japan with Word Connection


Website accessibility in Japan

At Word Connection, we can help you to ensure that your web content is appropriately translated and localised to attract Japanese consumers. We can also assist with enhancing the accessibility of your site via the translation and localisation of multimedia content, alternative text for visual contents, audio descriptions and captions plus more.


Why not ensure that your website can be enjoyed by everyone in Japan?


Website accessibility in Japan

 

James Myatt

4 min read

Nov 10, 2023

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