Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where's the carrot for accessibility?

Possibly the hottest topic for Australian government web managers this year is 'accessibility', following on from the release of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy by AGIMO (the Australian Government Information Management Office).

The strategy confirmed the Australian Government's adoption of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2 (WCAG 2.0) from the World-Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the premier global standards setting organisation for the Internet, as well as the mandatory timeframe for accessibility compliance by government agencies.

In speaking to people within agencies who are not directly in web areas, but who are commissioning, funding and filling websites with content, for the most part I have found they were unaware of the government's accessibility requirements. A regular question was, "is this a new requirement?" and when told that accessibility requirements had been around for more than ten years and the Disability Discrimination Act since 1992, the reactions varied from surprise to anger - that they'd never been told before.

There's also uncertainty and some anxiety about meeting the requirements, which still look like black magic to those new to the topic. Is an accessible PDF good enough? How do we know if it is a decorative or meaningful image? Can we use Facebook if it isn't accessible? How do we add closed captions or transcripts to unscripted user-generated videos? Do we have to convert all PDF submissions to consultations into HTML? Are we funded for accessibility?

Agencies are coming to understand the need for accessibility, and the risks. However where's the carrots?

At the moment there's no real kudos for agencies that meet accessibility requirements. No recognition for complying, public mention of best practice examples or awards for high achievement.

Of course it could be argued that meeting the accessibility requirements is a given and no-one should be rewarded for complying with legal requirements they need to meet.

However humans are complex creatures and respond both to punishments and rewards. Public servants need acknowledgement for good work as much, if not more, than they require chastisement for bad.

I would like to see more opportunities to recognize the agencies who are best at meeting their accessibility obligations as well as mechanisms to identify and name the worst.

Do you agree - should there be acknowledgements for good accessibility practice?

Or is it a given that all agencies should meet without reward?


  1. Agencies should not be rewarded for following accessibility requirements, much like there is little kudos for following CPGs.

    I think public servants are more likely to respond to a legal requirement than the ‘what’s in it for me’ value proposition.

    However, I agree that there currently exists a lack in understanding and awareness of accessibility requirements across the APS.

    For this reason, rewarding agencies for meeting accessibility requirements should be an exercise in awareness raising, education and examples of best practice.

  2. Whether there is a stick or a carrot is completely irrelevant. Accessibility is the right thing to do, not to mention its the law. Should individuals or agencies be acknowledged or get kudos for actually addressing accessibility? No. They should be embarrassed for having neglected accessibility for so long. Providing carrots? Total rubbish.

  3. Thanks Craig, Vision Australia (who are at the front end of accessibility) could do worse than provide an endorsement icon (heart tick for eg) for accessible websites managed by all levels of Govt and also for all publicly funded websites. Perhaps not getting a carrot is a big enough stick in itself.

  4. Hi Craig,

    There is already inclusion of accessibility in the Service Delivery category of the annual eGovernment awards which will be presented next week at CeBIT. The detail is at



  5. John, I can see the word 'accessibility' in the Service Delivery category, however it is an attribute for entries, not a category that agencies may enter sites into for consideration (

    Shouldn't entrants into any eGovernment award be required to meet all accessibility requirements to be a legal entrant in the first place?

  6. In my view the carrot is not embarrassing your minister or getting sued. Pretty simple really, it's the law and it's the right thing to do.

  7. As others have said, it's the right thing to do. If you have a huge cost to comply with the NTS, it means you've been acting unprofessionally for the past ten years.

  8. I am surprised by the comments on this post. Yes, accessibility is a legal requirement - but there are ranges of accessibility. Also, there is a lot to be said for having the right blend of "good looking" and "highly accessible".

    From someone in the trenches, I am also aware that accessibility is often regarded as a feature check box, but which is highly undervalued / underestimated / unaware / misunderstood. When looking at a brief that includes a flash component or facebook, but also has section 508 and/or wcag 2.0 compliant - it is obvious there is a disconnect. Often there is no time (or budget) that is allocated to the issue. Try getting someone to test across multiple browsers, much less a screen reader.

    I'm with Craig on this one - I think there is more to accessibility than a simple checkbox-level requirement and a site can be judged on how well it delivers on an accessible experience as much as it is judged on its design.

  9. interestingly enough, I just came across this.

  10. I think this highlights that there is still a gap between decision makers and the use of the web. Agencies would not dare to build a community facility without accessibility requirements, a disabled toilet, access ramp etc but when it comes to web content and you slap 20% extra onto of it for accessibility requirements they question the need over and over again even though it is the law.

    Whilst AGIMO has given a directive on this, there are still a lot of people who believe that it is us “web managers” trying to make it harder for them to place content on the web. Like we are justifying a reason for having a job!

  11. The carrot is that your website can be used by the 20 per cent of Australians that have a disability rather than shutting them out. It is baffling that accessibility isn't front of mind for all website creators, public or private sector. It's just good business to make sure your information or service is accessible to all.

  12. Accessibility should just be 'part of the job' for online activity - like privacy and security - but there is certainly a need for more awareness and education for all contributors, and for hard-copy publishing as well as online service delivery.

  13. I think I see your point, Craig. I work as a graphic designer in a government agency so I'm not directly in the web team but I need to be able to provide accessible .pdfs to my clients, who are also not in the web team. It's amazing how muffled the information was even twelve months ago, and easy to understand how those not directly involved in web publishing can get easily confused about what is, and is not accessible (in fact, the debate still rages on in my department over .pdfs). I'm not sure if there needs to be a carrot, but sometimes the whip isn't always fair either in these situations.

  14. Great post Craig. The accessibility requirements can be confusing and frustrating. Yes they are important and necessary but when you are trying to do everything else at once, they can seem like just another tick-a-box.