The case for equal access to information
A responsibility to provide equal access to all citizens
Equal access to information and services is a right, and a legal requirement for government websites. Beyond this, the implementation of accessibility enhancements will also result in improved experiences for all users. In many cases, however, the adoption of best-practice accessibility standards by government websites and other digital assets has been lacking. Given that one of the central tenets of Gov 2.0 is accessibility, it’s important that this situation changes.
Accessible web design is usually described in terms of the impact it has on people with a disability if it is not employed. In general terms, however, it is the philosophy behind, and practice of, designing web content so it can be accessed by anyone regardless of location, experience or type of computer technology used. It’s vital that accessibility is a key consideration for digital projects because the very nature and strength of the web is its openness and universality. The momentum behind Gov 2.0 practice makes it an ideal vehicle for keeping accessibility top of mind for all government digital practitioners.
It’s likely that a site’s accessibility will be compromised, however, if it is not included in the initial planning stages. In the same way that an architect experiences problems trying to retrofit accessibility options to a building once it is completed, such as ramps, rails and by removing barriers to entry like steps, a web designer will experience difficulty adding-on accessibility options to a completed website. What’s more, to be accessibility compliant when building a site from scratch is not an onerous task.
Consider the following content parameters released as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 by the Australian Human Rights Commission:
Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
Provide alternatives for time-based media.
Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
Provide users enough time to read and use content.
Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
Make text content readable and understandable.
Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Maximise compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.
Our work on the Target 155 campaign for the Department of Sustainability and Environment incorporates important accessibility attributes. By addressing the issues of accessibility in the project planning stages, we were able to bring great design and accessibility together into a cohesive end-result.
Incorporating good accessibility into a Gov 2.0 project takes common sense and good design, and will benefit all users. The resulting websites will express excellent functionality, as well as the accessibility standards that are expected of government.