Monday, July 14, 2008

Do government communications discriminate against - or for - the visually impaired?

I was reading a very interesting blog post the other day regarding the experiences of someone who is colourblind, Confessions of a colourblind man.

It raised a number of accessibility issues with printed material, moving images and websites that the author had experienced during their life.

Despite the requirement for government in Australia to ensure our websites are accessible, I worry both that we do not do enough, and that we do too much, in this area.

I also worry that we do not pay enough attention to our other communications channels - particularly print and television, which do not seem to have the same degree of scrutiny or governance.

Of course cost is a factor, but where should we draw the line between cost and equity?

We have explicit laws to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender, age or physical impairments. The cost of equality is generally not an acceptable argument in these situations.

But do we still discriminate against people with visual and movement impairment in our communications based on cost?

Or do we go too far (which I have also seen done) - develop our websites and communications for the lowest common denominator (again because of cost), and therefore lose touch with the average Australian?

Many government websites (including my agency's) are designed in 800x600 monitor resolution despite this being used by under 10% of the audience and there being well-established technologies available to reshape a website to make it relevant at different resolutions.

For my agency this decision is definitely about cost. The cost of the content management system and accompanying work required to allow us to support multiple website standards.

My preferred option would be to have;
  • one website version for those with impairments (dial-up users/low resolution monitors/screen readers)
  • one website version for those without (broadband users/high resolution monitors)
It's a hard tightrope to walk - how does your department do it?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link to my blog post, Craig!

    I added a comment to it, clarifying that my Curriculum Directorate colleague (at Ryde State Office of the NSW Department of Education & Training), mentioned in the post, did spread the word about my "condition" - with my permission, of course - and I became an unofficial colour evaluation guinea pig for several Units' webpage revamps for the Departmental website while I was there.

    Mind you, while I was able to help them with specifications to aid my red/green colourblindness, there are other types. Where does all the beta testing end? ;)

    That web composers are open to suggestions (and complaints) from people trying to use their site, would be of paramount importance. For example, as pretty as Flash animations may be, to use only such a visual on the front page of a site can mean that people using old browsers or computers can't even progress to the page with contact details to lodge a complaint! (I've been there before!)