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Accessibility - the journey for your organisation

All Australian government websites are required to meet WCAG 2.0 AA standards, and are also being encouraged to update to meet the new WCAG 2.1 standards.

The new WCAG 2.1 standards include 17 additional WCAG criteria to address accessibility issues when using mobile technology and ensure services are able to meet the needs of people with low vision and those with cognitive and learning disabilities. They also recognise specific areas of technology advancement and the needs of more diverse users. This includes users who don’t speak English as a first language.

Inaccessible websites are not just an issue of compliance. Having an inaccessible website can mean lost revenue for your business. Almost one in five Australians report living with some form of disability. An inaccessible web presence means potential customers will simply go to a competitor.

Section 5 of the disability and discrimination act of 1992 asks that 'reasonable adjustments' be made to ensure that content is accessible to all users.

This came to a head in 2014 when supermarket giant, Coles, was legally challenged by Gisele Mesnage, who has a significant vision impairment. Ms Mesnage had previously identified accessibility issues with online shopping and ultimately lodged a complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act.

An accessible web presence is a shared responsibility of both content authors and website developers. The underlying HTML markup of the page must be considerate of accessibility guidelines and ensure that it appropriately leverages the Accessibility API within browsers.

Backwards engineering accessibility into a website can be a difficult and costly process, so steps must be made from the project inception to ensure that the underlying code of the website is accessible.

Equally, the burden also falls on content authors to ensure that the web content made is accessible. This includes ensuring the reading level of the content is appropriate and ensuring that text alternatives are available for video/audio content.

A good starting point for an accessibility audit is to run an auditing tool across your current website and see how it stacks up. Tools such as HTML Codesniffer, the Funnelback Accessibility Auditor and Google Lighthouse are great starting points for getting a snapshot of where your website is currently at.

These tools can give great pointers towards what types of issues your website currently has and what can be done to address them. With that said, it's important to keep in mind that these tools are simply pointers towards potential issues. They are the map, not the territory.

However, 100% compliance to an automated tool does not guarantee that a website is accessible, and a website that does not get 100% accessibility on an automated tool may realistically be 100% accessible. Automated tools are no substitute for a full accessibility audit performed by a human. Use the automated tools to get your website a majority of the way there, and use an accessibility audit to fine tune it.

Accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Working towards accessibility takes consideration, and 100% compliance is no small feat. When going through an accessibility audit process, emphasise quick wins and prioritise the tasks that will pragmatically give the most impact for users.

With the rise of mobile devices, assistive technologies are getting into more people's hands. Modern mobile devices all have accessibility interfaces with APIs that enable developers to leverage the device's capabilities.

Making a website accessible doesn't just impact a fringe set of users. The considerations made will benefit all users, even able-bodied users. Writing content to a 7th Grade level will make your content quicker to comprehend for users with a much higher reading level. Building a UI with keyboard navigation ensures that power users can quickly navigate through your website with a tab key. Using appropriate content and tags in your HTML will ensure search engines can easily crawl and index your website, giving you better SEO.


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