The Federal Government has released a set of guidelines to assist its agencies in making their websites more accessible to disabled people.
The launch of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy follows the Government’s endorsement of the internationally recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in February 2010. All federal government agencies will be expected to conform to the accessibility standards by 2015.
In a joint statement issued on June 30 2010 Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities Bill Shorten said that the transition strategy guidelines outline a “four-year plan that will guide agencies in upgrading to new accessibility standards”.
Minister Tanner explained that “in order to provide services that are fair and equitable, in order to fully engage and participate with citizens, government websites must be accessible to all”.
Mr Shorten emphasised the impact greater website access would have on disabled people:
“New technology has huge potential to make life better for people with disability, but we need to make sure that it is as easy to use as possible for all members of our community.”
Government agencies will be expected to comply with a number of requirements including:
- Providing alternative text formats suitable to a broader readership e.g. Braille, large text, audio and symbols;
- Using simple, commonly understandable language and providing greater assistance with navigation and search functions;
- Creating content that is manipulable and can be presented in multiple layouts;
- All functionality must be available from a keyboard; and
- Ensuring that all web content technologies are ‘accessibility-supported’, in line with ‘progressive enhancement’ and display semantic HTML markup capabilities.
Furthermore, extensive training in WCAG 2.0 compliance will be offered to government personnel, and agencies will be expected to report compliance measures regularly to the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) within the Department of Finance & Deregulation.
Australian Government Chief Information Officer Ann Steward says the adoption and implementation of WCAG 2.0 principles is compatible with broader government ICT initiatives. “As the government embraces Web 2.0. and employs more citizen-centric tools to engage with the public, our commitment to accessibility increases...Never before have we embarked upon such a significant effort to improve website accessibility, delivered on a whole-of-government basis” she said.
The move to WCAG 2.0 has been similarly supported across the government ICT sector. It was the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board that first proposed the move in 2009. This body will sponsor the project at the federal government level in conjunction with the Chief Information Officer Committee, which will oversee the transition strategy. The Online and Communications Council has also endorsed the project and will spearhead the implementation process in all states and territories.
A reference group has also been established and will provide broad advice and assistance to the implementation process. The reference group consists of delegates from the Australian Human Rights Commission; the Attorney-General’s Department; the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; as well as representatives from various state and territory agencies.