A draft online accessibility policy has been developed by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, to be rolled out across South Australian government departments.

Why are we focusing on accessibility?

Inaccessible online content can unknowingly provide barriers for people with disability. This can add to the feeling of isolation in our community, especially when our customers are unable to access, or have trouble navigating, online government information and services. Accessibility has become even more important as more and more traditional face-to-face transactions are replaced by online services.

Earlier this year, the Disability Inclusion Act 2018 was enacted by the South Australia Government. Under the Act, State Government agencies and local government will need to develop and implement Disability Access and Inclusion Plans, in full consultation with people with disability. In response, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet worked with Vision Australia, Royal Society for the Blind (SA) and other key stakeholders to develop a draft online accessibility policy. This policy aims to better define accessibility requirements for all South Australian Government online content and functionality.

What is accessibility and why is it important?

Accessibility is about making online content able to be accessed and understood by anyone. Whether someone benefits from better online navigation, or a blind user benefits from using their screen reader to read a web page, accessible design and development ensures a better online experience for everyone.

Almost one in five Australians are living with disability (ABS, 2015). For those living with a disability, the ability to access services digitally can be even more important as a go-to way of accessing information or doing day to day things like making payments or submitting forms. This is especially relevant for those living with a physical disability, who may find harder to get to offices to do these things in person.

The online environment is also an important way for people living with a disability to interact with others, helping reduce feelings of isolation and helping them to feel part of the community.

Relevant disabilities include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. It’s important that websites are accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity.

Websites can be inaccessible due to a number of reasons. For example:

  • colours – certain colours are not accessible to those with low vision. In Australia, about 8% of males and 0.4% of females suffer colour blindness to some degree
  • images – images without alternative text will be skipped by a screen reader and are unable to be changed to large print, braille, symbols or simpler language
  • videos – without captions, videos can seem meaningless to deaf or hard of hearing
  • language – poorly written or complex content may provide a barrier to people who have difficulty comprehending and interpreting written language, for example articles, instructions, or newspapers in HTML text or braille
  • presentation of hyperlinks – for those with low vision, they may confuse or disorient the user
  • poor navigation –  all navigation should be available via a keyboard as well as mouse
  • how content is displayed to ensure compatibility with online accessibility tools.

As government, it is our responsibility to ensure that the whole public are able to access information and services, not just those who do not live with a disability.

Many low vision web users have screen readers that work closely with the computer’s operating system to provide information about icons, menus, dialogue boxes, files and folders. The screen reader provides access to the entire operating system that it works with, including many common applications. The accessibility policy is written to promote social inclusion.

What are the changes?

The policy has been modernised to ensure it aligns with the intention Disability Inclusion Act 2018, updates include:

  • providing the latest authoritative resources and advice for agencies
  • inclusion of new guiding legislation and international conventions
  • aligning with the Australian Government and the Digital Service Standards
  • defining reporting requirements for agencies through their Disability Access and Inclusion Plan
  • providing guidelines on procurement of accessible Information and Communications Technology or (ICT)
  • ongoing support and guidance for SA Government agencies
  • a broader scope.  

Under the policy, all SA Government online applications will be changed to conform – at a minimum – to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

WCAG 2.1 is an evolution of the accessibility guidance to include mobile, low vision, and cognitive provisions, and conformance to Level AA is encouraged at this time.

The policy applies to all SA Government online applications whether they are provided solely by the SA Government, or are partly or wholly provided by external parties on behalf of the SA Government, including:

  • public-facing websites
  • intranets (accessed within SA Government)
  • public-facing native apps (eg Portable Document Format (PDF))
  • online forms and surveys (public-facing and accessed within SA Government)
  • non-web-based software.

How was the policy developed?

The draft policy was prepared by the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet in partnership with Vision Australia and Royal Society for the Blind (SA), and included additional consultation with the Australian Governments' Digital Transformation Agency and Department for Human Services, and key digital accessibility stakeholders from across the South Australian Government.