Australian Government Endorses WCAG 2.0 Web Accessibility Guidelines

WCAG 2.0The Australian Government have announced their plan to adhere with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. All Government websites will require Level A compliance by 2012, and Double A by 2015. The new standard replaces replaces WCAG 1.0, which was introduced as a mandated requirement for agencies in 2000.

Lindsay Tanner, Minister for Finance and Deregulation, said:

This is an important step in making democracy more open, accessible and accountable for all Australians.

The Australian government is progressively implementing new online technologies and looking to connect with more people online. These new standards will improve the ability of people with a broad range of disabilities to take up those opportunities and engage with the Government via the Internet.

Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, added:

People with disability still face too many barriers that stop them participating in work, education and other areas. This initiative will help ensure that people with disability are not left behind by the rapid growth of the Internet.

It’s an ambitious project. Although many governments have accessibility legislation, few understand the implications or follow them through to implementation.

WCAG-what?

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 is a document produced by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative.

It’s a daunting read, especially if you’re used to following the WCAG 1.0 guidelines. Much of the original document was specific to HTML mark-up, e.g. don’t use tables for layout, ensure content can be read without stylesheets, avoid popups, etc.

WCAG 2.0 is based on a broader set of guidelines. It is not necessarily concerned with the technology, but how it is used. There are four basic principles:

  • Information and UI components must be perceivable — they can’t be invisible to all a user’s senses.
  • UI components and navigation must be operable.
  • Information and UI components must be understandable.
  • Content must be robust so it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

Each principle contains 12 guidelines, with each guideline containing a number of success criteria pertaining to A, AA or AAA conformance.

Fortunately, there are a number of supporting documents and tools which make it easier to follow the guidelines:

If looks as though Australian developers have a little bedtime reading. But developers from other countries shouldn’t be too complacent — your Government will almost certainly adopt WCAG 2.0 if they haven’t already!

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  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au Tyssen

    Well-known Australian accessibility expert Gian Wild is recommending sticking with WCAG 1.0 for the time being: http://www.gianwild.com/2010/03/15/why-im-sticking-with-wcag1-for-now/

  • http://autisticcuckoo.net/ AutisticCuckoo

    Congratulations to the people of Australia!

  • ShadyAidy

    Does this apply only to the publicly accessible part of the website?

    For example, my employer produces several local government websites, and uses ExtJS extensively for the administrative ‘back office’ and page authoring – however, end user (the taxpayer accessing the service) experience is enriched with (and accessible without) a smattering of jquery.

    Where do ‘admin systems’ stand?

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    @ShadyAidy
    I don’t know about Australian admin systems but I’ve worked on a few UK Government and local Government projects. In all cases, they demanded accessibility for internal systems — you can’t discriminate against users just because they work for the authority! They all had to work in IE6 too.

  • ShadyAidy

    I’m from the UK – none of the local gov’t projects demanded ‘internal accessibility’ as long as the public facing website (or intranet, if internal) complied with WCAG.

    I know this is a topic for another article or thread, but how do other developers balance the need for a RIA against accessibility? It’s one thing adding a progressive enhancement using jQuery, quite another writing an admin system which extensively uses ExtJS or similar.

    In part, our use of ExtJS was borne of the need to eliminate opening a new window to provide a rich ‘picker’ (image from an image library, for example) functionality. Some of our clients would no longer allow this on accessibility / standards grounds, but were happy with an ExtJS powered picker!

  • _Nathan_W_

    @ShadyAidy
    The accessibility of internal systems is not usually covered specifically by government web standards – but following the techniques set out in WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 means internal systems are more compliant with EEO principles.
    Don’t forget alot of the techniques also directly assist people who don’t have any particular disabilities, it just makes the overall user experience better.

  • _Nathan_W_

    Oh I forgot to mention, what the Australian government is proposing is a great step. Its not enough though, I question the timeline they are using and the level of compliance they have set.
    Compare Australia to New Zealand. The NZ government web standards require agencies to comply with AA by October 2010. New sites and major redesigns have to comply right now, not 2015. I’m not saying NZ is better and that all agencies will reach that target, most won’t, but the bar has been set pretty high to force agencies to really think about what services are offered online and how they deliver them.

    Australia has set AA by 2015. Unfortunately given the mechanics of government, the way projects are managed and funded and the shear number of sites requiring an overhaul, Australia won’t see any real benefit until mid 2014 when website managers panic about the impending deadline.