Accessibility – Yes it’s the Law

Managing a website can be hard at the best of times, there is the technology itself – that is forever changing.  Then there is the new kid on the block social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and like.

On top of all this is there is the constant reminder that your content has to be just right for your customers and Google (for all that SEO goodness).   And then you have to ensure that your site is usable for your potential customers as well.  It’s a lot to take on.

You may not have known, but in Australia it is an offence for certain industries and providers not to have accessible websites under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

What does this mean.   Simply put your website should be easy to access by everyone.  That includes people with long or short term disabilities and older people.  The Disability Discrimination Act is administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The  Australian Human Rights Commission state that requirement for equal access is extended to:

“…any individual or organisation developing a Worldwide Web page in Australia, or placing or maintaining a Web page on an Australian server. This includes pages developed or maintained for purposes relating to employment; education; provision of services including professional services, banking, insurance or financial services, entertainment or recreation, telecommunications services, public transport services, or government services; sale or rental of real estate; sport; activities of voluntary associations; or administration of Commonwealth laws or programs.”

In Australia we have a series of international guidelines (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) that have been accepted by the federal government as the baseline standard for accessible web sites.  These documents are technical documents aimed at people in the web industry.   However as a business owner you have to be aware of the requirements of Disability Discrimination Act in relation to accessibility and web sites.

These guidelines work around 4 principles:

  • Principle 1 Perceivable

    Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

  • Principle 2 Operable

    User interface components and navigation must be operable.

  • Principle 3 Understandable

    Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.

  • Principle 4 Robust

    Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Each of these principles is broken down into 12 overall guidelines, which are in turn broken down into a checkpoints (61 in all).   Now as a business owner you can rate the success of the accessibility of your site verses these checkpoints into three ratings:

  • Single-A – the most basic level of accessibility success criteria
  • Double-A – the intermediate level of accessibility success criteria
  • Triple-A – the highest level of accessibility success criteria

Now if you are familiar with web accessibility you may be thinking these success criteria are the  same as the checkpoints previous version of these guidelines (WCAG 1), they are not.

I suggest you make yourself very familiar with how to meet them the new success criteria.

Testing for Accessibility Compliance.

Now if your web design and development team have been following industry best practice over the years and are up to date  in their techniques and have developed your site using web standards, then you will have most of your accessibility issues solved.   Note I said most, not all.  There will be outstanding issues.

You can address them by getting  your web design and development team to conduct an accessibility audit of your site. Or have your site tested by real people with disabilities to see if you have any accessibility issues.  The important thing is to not do it yourself, as you are not your customer.