"We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability." Stevie Wonder, 2016 GRAMMY Awards
“The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web
Digital inclusion doesn’t quite pull on the heart strings like some other human rights campaigns. Many people just don’t know enough about it. Yet it’s an issue that affects over one billion people across the globe who have a disability, as well as plenty more with age-related impairments.
It’s all about ensuring inclusive participation and access to information for all people, no matter what their abilities or circumstances. Think about some of the physical barriers that prevent people with disabilities from experiencing the world in the same way as others. A building with only stairs, for example, is going to be impossible for someone in a wheelchair to access. The same concept applies to digital accessibility. If websites or other digital media are poorly designed and built, they can prevent some people from using them. Just as a ramp can be an accessible alternative to stairs, websites and other digital assets can be built in a way that enables people with disabilities or age-related impairments to access them.
Here, we’re going to introduce you to digital inclusion, how it applies in an Australian context, and some handy tools to help you along the way.
A global organisation dedicated to web accessibility
World Wide Web Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C WAI)
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community where member organisations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop web standards. Led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and CEO Jeffrey Jaffe, W3C's mission is to lead the web to its full potential.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) brings together people from industry, disability organisations, government, and research labs from around the world to develop guidelines and resources to help make the web accessible to people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities. You can find out more about web accessibility and why it’s important from WAI’s introduction to web accessibility.
To understand accessibility in the real world, WAI also provides an overview of how people with disabilities use the web.
WAI’s global framework for accessibility
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
W3C WAI developed a technical global standard for web content accessibility called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, currently version 2.0 (WCAG 2.0). WCAG is a technical standard that is most useful to web developers and those involved in the maintenance of web content. It has 12 guidelines that are organised under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA.
WCAG 2.0 also covers a range of technology-specific techniques, such as those relating to Portable Document Format (PDF) accessibility and mobile accessibility.
The W3C are currently working on a 2017 release of WCAG 2.1. Following this will be WCAG 3.0; version 3.0 will be more substantial but does not have a release date at present.
Accessibility requirements for Australian government
Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS)
In 2010, Australian Government released its Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS), which endorsed the adoption and implementation of WCAG 2.0. Designed to deliver improved web services across government, the NTS paved the way for a more technically accessible environment in which people could access information and engage with government.
The NTS stipulated that all government websites (federal, state and territory) had to meet a minimum of WCAG 2.0 Level A compliance by the end of 2012. Furthermore, Federal Government websites had to meet a minimum of WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance by the end of 2014. Overall, to support a national transition, the aim was for all governments to achieve WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance by early 2015. These requirements were outlined in the Australian Government’s Web Guide, which has since been superseded by the Digital Service Standard.
Digital Service Standard (DSS)
In 2015, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) became responsible for whole-of-government web guidance, which resulted in the launch of their Digital Service Standard (DSS). The DTO then became part of a newly formed Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in October 2016, which was established to guide, oversee and drive the Government’s ambitious digital and ICT agendas, including the DSS.
With a strong emphasis on user-centred design and inclusive services, the DSS establishes the criteria that all Australian digital government services must meet to ensure they are technically compliant against WCAG 2.0, as well as simpler, faster and easier for everyone to use. Government services will be assessed against the DSS if their design or redesign commenced after 6 May 2016.
Accessibility requirements are specifically addressed in Criterion 9: Make it Accessible, which states that agencies need to make sure everyone who needs their service can use it, including people with disabilities and older people. Under Criterion 9, it is required that accessibility be addressed at every stage, from planning to development to delivery of a digital service. Guidance on making content accessible and testing web accessibility for websites, online services and mobile apps is available.
Often an area of some confusion, let’s delve into document accessibility requirements.
Portable Document Format (PDF)
PDF accessibility is covered under W3C WAI’s PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0. However, due to the lack of support for PDF in mobile environments, it is still not considered an independent accessible format. This means that although PDFs can be made fully accessible to WCAG 2.0 standards, it may still be necessary to provide the same information in another format, ideally HTML.
Microsoft Word documents
Although Word documents can be optimised for accessibility, they aren’t covered under WCAG 2.0. This means that if you publish a Word document to a website, it is necessary for you to provide the same information in another format that complies with WCAG 2.0.
So, why is it still important to learn how to create accessible Word documents? Because often a Word document is just the start of a bigger process. A Word document might be converted to HTML or PDF; it might be published to a website as an attachment; it might be emailed to a colleague or customer with a disability; it might be passed on to a group of people whose abilities you’re not sure of. You need to ensure the document you’ve created is fit for possible conversion or distribution.
Document format usage situations
We recommend using the following situations as a guide to publishing documents online:
- If a PDF is accessible to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards, and it is highly likely to be accessed from a desktop computer with appropriate accessibility support, it should be accompanied by a HTML cover page.
- If a PDF is accessible to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards, but is likely to be accessed from a mobile device, it should be accompanied by a compliant HTML alternative or accessible Word document.
- If a PDF is not accessible to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards, it must be accompanied by a compliant HTML alternative.
- If a Word document has been optimised for accessibility, it must be accompanied by a compliant PDF or HTML alternative.
- If a Word document has not been optimised for accessibility, it must be accompanied by a compliant HTML alternative.
Accessibility requirements for all Australian organisations
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises access to information and communications technologies, including the web, as a basic human right.
To enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, all Australian organisations are required to take appropriate measures to ensure access to information and communications by identifying and eliminating obstacles and barriers to accessibility.
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), the Australian Human Rights Commission released its World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes, which provides information about accessibility and legal issues, as well as advice about how web designers and website owners can minimise the possibility of disability discrimination. Requirements under the DDA apply to any individual or organisation developing a website or other web resource in Australia, or placing or maintaining a web resource on an Australian server.
Complaints are made to the Commission for breaches of the DDA. In considering a disability discrimination complaint about web accessibility, the Commission takes into consideration the extent to which the best available advice on accessibility has been obtained and followed. A complaint is much less likely to succeed if reasonable steps have been taken to address accessibility during the design stage.
ICT Procurement Standard
Australia has established a minimum standard for the procurement of accessible ICT, which will support access to ICT for people with disabilities and provide ICT procurers with much-needed accessibility guidance and certainty.
Driven by Standards Australia in conjunction with the Department of Finance, the new Australian Standard is a direct adoption of European Standard EN 301 549: “Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services in Europe”.
A demonstration of Australia’s commitment to accessible technology, the Standard will ensure ICT products and services can be used by everyone, including those with disability or impairment.
Endorsed in 2017, the Standard can be used by the public and private sectors as a framework to determine the technical specifications for the procurement of accessible ICT, such as websites, software, digital devices, documents and support services.
More resources to help you understand and implement accessibility
Introducing digital accessibility video
This animated film from the UK provides a short introduction to digital accessibility and some of the reasons why digital inclusion is so important (note: it refers to UK accessibility standards).
Screen reader demonstration video
People access information in different ways. This video demonstrates the use of a screen reader and discusses the importance of good web accessibility from the perspective of a person who is blind.
Web accessibility perspectives videos
Produced by W3C-WAI, this series of web accessibility perspectives videos demonstrates how accessibility can be essential for some, but useful for all.
General guidelines for inclusion
Our blog article called “Online and Print Inclusive Design and Legibility Considerations” provides a handy list of the main accessibility and inclusive design considerations that should be made when creating or assessing online or print resources.
As the leading provider of accessibility training in Australia, our public and in-house training courses enable professionals and whole organisations to achieve the highest standards in digital accessibility and communication.
Planning for accessibility case study
Find out how addressing accessibility issues during the design stage could save you and your team a lot of headaches later on in our blog article called “Part of the Plan: Accessibility from Design to Development”.
How to meet WCAG 2.0 reference guide
W3C provides a customisable quick reference to WCAG 2.0 requirements and techniques. Most web professionals use this quick reference as their main resource for working with WCAG.
Accessibility professional services
It’s important to remember that accessibility is a highly specialised field, and sometimes it’s going to be necessary to rely on the experts. As one of the only Australian consultancies to provide tailored design and code solutions to technical and real-world accessibility issues, our testing and consulting services are at the forefront of the industry.
Document remediation service: TaggedPDF
We’ve partnered with TaggedPDF – an Australian owned company that specialises in PDF tagging and accessibility remediation. Whether you have a single file or a magnitude of legacy documents, TaggedPDF can make them accessible for you. Contact them today for a quote.
International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP)
As the only Australasian founding member of the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), we know the value that comes from being part of a global accessibility network. Open to individual or organisational membership, IAAP also offers a range of free accessibility resources.
Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) and eLearning
Free to download, the Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) is a dedicated accessibility ribbon menu for Microsoft Word that makes it quicker and easier to create accessible documents.
You can learn how to use the DAT effectively with DAT 101: Everyday Document Accessibility. This eLearning course will benefit anyone looking to improve their understanding of accessibility and learn basic skills to make a Word document more accessible to people with disabilities or impairments.
Colour Contrast Analyser (CCA)
One of our most popular innovations, the Colour Contrast Analyser is a free tool for checking foreground and background colour combinations on web pages to determine if they provide good colour visibility.
Web Accessibility Toolbar (WAT)
Our most downloaded tool, the Web Accessibility Toolbar for Internet Explorer was developed to aid manual examination of web pages for a range of accessibility issues.
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