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Sphere takes a bold step forward on accessibility

A thorough audit of Sphere’s digital content against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

For over 20 years, Sphere has made significant efforts to ensure our products and services are accessible: to make them freely available, and easy to use and understand by everyone.

This goes hand in hand with one of Sphere’s key messages around inclusion: that all members of communities affected by humanitarian crises should have opportunities to participate actively in decisions and activities that involve them. This means that humanitarian organisations must seek out marginalised groups, and services and resources must be accessible.

Four workshop participants, one of whom is in a wheelchair, look at some information on a poster.

Participants of a Sphere and Age & Disability Inclusion workshop in Bali in 2018. People in wheelchairs could easily access the training venue, and content was interpreted live from Bahasa Indonesia into sign language to involve deaf participants. Photo: Axel Schmidt

Sphere’s approach to accessibility

  • Most Sphere resources are available in four languages – English, French, Spanish and Arabic – including our website, our learning platform and the Interactive Handbook.
  • We support our community to translate Sphere content into additional languages, and to create unique content in their own languages. As a result, the Sphere Handbook is available in over 40 languages, COVID-19 guidance is available in 14 languages, and we offer training products in Japanese, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and others.
  • The Manual Esfera amigable (the “Friendly Sphere Handbook”, in Spanish only) was created for communities affected by crisis. It’s an illustrated introduction to Sphere which helps people to understand their rights and the actions of humanitarian actors.
  • The most recent edition of the Sphere Handbook was edited for readability against Plain Language
  • The HSP App[1] is designed with limited internet connectivity in mind: downloads are small, and the app can be used offline.
  • Since 2015, all our digital platforms have been responsive, meaning they are designed to work well on phones as well as computers.
  • Sphere is committed to organising accessible online meetings and webinars by providing live captions and live interpretation – into different spoken languages and sign-language, depending on the requirements of registrants.
  • Organisers of in-person Sphere workshops are encouraged to ensure the accessibility of their events, and there have been several workshops with participants and/or facilitators with limitations[2].

Accessibility is particularly important for persons with disabilities, which is the focus of Sphere’s latest accessibility initiative. During the last few months of 2021, BarrierBreak performed a thorough audit of representative sets of Sphere’s online platforms (the website, the learning platform and the Interactive Handbook) against Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), version 2.1.


Audit results

Out of the total 78 success criteria falling under levels A, AA, and AAA, Sphere’s platforms passed 33 (42%) and failed to conform to 45 (58%).

In the following chart, these success criteria are categorised into three levels where “Level A” represents success criteria that must be fixed, “Level AA” represents success criteria that should be fixed, and “Level AAA” represents success criteria that can be fixed to achieve the conformance with WCAG 2.1.

WCAG 2.1 Conformance Overview Bar Chart for all Sphere Platforms - 18 Success Criteria failing at Level A, 14 Success Criteria failing at Level AA, 13 Success Criteria failing at Level AAA and 12 Success Criteria Passing at Level A, 6 Success Criteria Passing at Level AA, 15 Success Criteria Passing at Level AAA.

WCAG 2.1 Conformance Overview Bar Chart for all Sphere Platforms

BarrierBreak reported on 585 issues along with detailed guidance on how to resolve them.

Number of Issues by Severity Pie Chart for all Sphere Platforms - 50% High, 33% Medium and 17% Low Severity Issues.

Number of Issues by Severity Pie Chart for all Sphere Platforms


What’s next?

“Following the audit, we now have a clear path ahead: to fix as many of these issues as possible, starting with the high priority ones and working down. The most important thing is to improve the accessibility of our systems. If we can eventually be certified against WCAG 2.1, that will be the cherry on the cake.”


“Importantly, even if we fix all of these 585 issues, the journey is not over because our platforms and content are constantly updated. To maintain a high level of accessibility, new pages and documents will need to meet the same standards. We’ll achieve this by working closely with our partners and suppliers to ensure that all new content – across the Humanitarian Standards Partnership – is made accessible. We’re learning a lot about accessibility from this process, and we’re keen to share this learning with our network.”

Tristan Hale, Head of Communications and Learning, Sphere


About BarrierBreak

BarrierBreak is a digital accessibility testing and accessibility consulting company based in India. It was founded in the year 2004 with a strong belief that technology can empower older people and people with disabilities to live independently. BarrierBreak was founded on three basic principles: technology, hiring people with disabilities, and a for-profit model.

“Sphere’s commitment to make their digital assets accessible for people with disabilities is commendable. Sphere is one of very few global organisations that aims to make its digital assets accessible at the highest level. Sphere is making all the efforts to interpret accessibility requirements and taking a strong step towards achieving WCAG conformance at the highest level. Most organisations globally will go for Level AA conformance and not for Level AAA conformance. Sphere is not only looking at meeting WCAG conformance but is also keen on providing Accessible User Experience for people with disabilities.”

Priti Rohra, Chief Accessibility Officer at BarrierBreak.


[1] The aim of the Humanitarian Standards Partnership is to improve the quality and accountability of humanitarian action across all sectors and a harmonised approach to support users in the application of standards: https://www.spherestandards.org/humanitarian-standards/standards-partnership/

[2] For example: https://www.spherestandards.org/humanitarian-action-that-leaves-no-one-behind-sphere-trainers-in-asia-promote-awareness-about-disability-inclusiveness-in-disaster-response/