The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) recently released its Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy 2012 Progress report, which provides a snapshot of agency progress in their transition to more accessible government services and information for everyone.
More than just a ‘checkbox’ approach
Far from walking away from its commitment to the NTS, the Australian Government has taken a more holistic approach to the future of accessibility. Whilst it has acknowledged WCAG 2.0 as a “foundation for more accessible websites and web applications”, it encourages a shift away from a ‘checkbox’ approach towards a framework for continuous improvement.
As seasoned advocates for universal and inclusive design, we’re in full support of an approach that considers not only WCAG 2.0 compliance but other efforts towards sustainable accessibility, such as education and training. These efforts may not necessarily be reflected by the report statistics when viewed in isolation. For example: it seems inadequate that only 26% of government websites met WCAG 2.0 Level A standards or above at December 2012, as was reported. However, it doesn’t reflect the wider awareness and other positive changes that have resulted from the NTS. Ultimately, an approach that encompasses more than just technical conformance will be of greater benefit to a broader range of people.
User testing by people with a range of disabilities, for example, can often uncover accessibility and usability issues beyond technical conformance. In support of a comprehensive approach to accessibility, and in anticipation of AGIMO’s framework for continuous improvement, we’ve recently enhanced our standard auditing service by including the option of a User Based Evaluation. This involves testing by people from the core disability groups, i.e. those with visual, mobility, cognitive or hearing impairment. We hope that by increasing the exposure of our user testing services, we will continue to facilitate a more holistic approach to accessibility in the future.
Although there are positive aspects to the progress report, there are some government agencies and industry and disability groups questioning the government’s commitment to the NTS and its deadlines. We spoke with Jacqui van Teulingen and Andrew Arch from AGIMO to help answer these questions.
Q&A with AGIMO: the future of accessibility in Australia
Digital Access: Why did it take a year to release NTS 2012 Progress?
AGIMO: Commencement of the NTS 2012 progress survey was deliberately delayed to allow incorporation of a data set on Agency Service Delivery collected for a different program. This was finalised at the end of Q1 and its data was incorporated to minimise duplicative requests of data from agencies. Agencies submitted their responses during April and May and some were provided extensions. Thorough data cleaning and analysis was undertaken in Q3 and the report was drafted and circulated for agency comment prior to its release in Q4.
The survey design, development, data cleansing, analysis and report writing are all activities conducted by the very small Web Accessibility team who performs this work alongside their other duties. A contractor is used to provide a web interface and for data collection only.
Digital Access: What is the situation like at the state and territory level?
AGIMO: States and territories are all aiming to follow the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy but have their own reporting regimes:
Digital Access: Are government agencies still required to meet the NTS Level AA deadline by the end of 2014?
AGIMO: Yes, government agencies are required to meet the NTS level AA by 31 December 2014.
Digital Access: How will the government’s commitment to achieving WCAG 2.0 compliance be achieved?
AGIMO: Australian Government agencies are committed to achieving WCAG 2.0 compliance by implementing the tasks that are outlined within the NTS 2012 Progress report under priorities for action including:
- Completing any remaining audits and setting upgrade priorities
- Reviewing action plans and interim access processes
- Releasing progressive accessibility enhancements
- Continuing staff education and awareness programs
Digital Access: The NTS 2012 Progress report introduces the concept of a continuous improvement framework for digital accessibility; can you tell us more about the framework?
AGIMO: This approach will be built into the standards and guidance being developed under the Government's eGovernment and Digital Economy policy. This concept will ensure that progressive accessibility improvements are released as they are made so that they provide immediate benefits.
Digital Access: Will the continuous improvement framework have a greater focus on including people with disabilities in the design and evaluation of digital services?
AGIMO: It is a concept modelled off similar frameworks that exist in other areas of government and are already being used in the UK government. User needs are considered in the design and development of the service and where it is appropriate to include people with a disability, older Australians or any particular types of users, the system will require their inclusion.
The Government is currently considering a trial of new service that will encourage users of government websites to alert website owners about an accessibility issue as they occur in the business moment, so that resolutions may be targeted at specific issues that remain after a website is made live. The government makes a best effort to launch accessible websites, however like all development programs instances may still occur; at present users have little ability to be able to report those instances. The trial is designed to enable users to become part of the improvement process so that issues are quickly resolved.
Digital Access: What is your response to recent press questioning the government’s commitment to the NTS 2014 deadline?
AGIMO: As stated earlier, the Australian Government remains committed to the NTS. The Australian Government set itself a challenging target under the NTS, but the foundations are now in place to progressively deliver improved services to Australian citizens. An increase from 5% to 26% of websites fully meeting WCAG 2.0 Level A is a significant improvement over two years, and a number of agencies are moving straight to Level AA by December 2014 for their websites.
Furthermore, the Government recognises that the targets set under the NTS are a pre-requisite to moving to more digital services and information for all Australians in the future.
Digital Access at Vision Australia
For more information about Vision Australia’s digital accessibility division visit the Digital Access homepage.
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