Understanding Website Accessibility Law in Australia
Not everyone has equal and inclusive access to information online.
Over 4.4 million Australians are living with a disability. Among these, 600,000 have a vision impairment, over 2 million have hearing issues, and at least 10-15% of the population have learning difficulties or are neurodiverse.
Many of these citizens need additional assistance online to access the same content as everyone else. To ensure this happens, several web accessibility laws and guidelines exist.
Understanding Accessibility Needs
Having an inaccessible website means that users with varying disabilities cannot access your information, goods, and services. Not only is this discriminatory, but it is foolish when you consider that at least 1 in 6 people in Australia have a long term illness, impairment, or disability – and many more may have temporary disabilities that affect their ability to access your site. Specific barriers that can make your website inaccessible include:
- Visual impairments
- Colour blindness
- Speaking English as a second language
- Mobility and physical impairments
With such a broad spectrum of accessibility barriers, the pitfalls of an inaccessible website are wide-ranging, but the most common problems are with websites that:
- Are not easy to use on a mobile
- Cannot be navigated using a keyboard
- Have inaccessible PDF forms that cannot be read using screen readers
- Have poor colour contrast that makes the text difficult to read
- Do not have adequate link descriptions or alt text descriptions on images
- Use images containing text that is unreadable by speech synthesiser software
Disability Discrimination Act of 1992
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is the primary piece of legislation that covers website accessibility and requires equal online access for people with disabilities. Section 5 of the law describes explicitly that inaccessible web content is discriminatory against people with disabilities by treating them “less favourably” than those without a disability.
DDA requirements apply to all individuals and organisations that develop a website or website resource. It is expected that website owners make reasonable adjustments so that content is accessible to people with disabilities. Failure or refusal to make adjustments is viewed as discrimination.
What Does the DDA Mean for You and Your Business?
All government agencies and any public-facing organisations are required to follow the DDA web accessibility laws. This includes online resources related, but not limited, to:
- Banking & Finance
- Public Transport
- Real Estate & Rentals
- Commonwealth Programs
Since January 2018, all federal agencies and contractors have also been expected to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) accessibility Level AA.
Web accessibility laws have been bolstered over the years due to updates, amendments, and new treaties and strategies, including:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Under convention regulations, state parties must ensure that accessible formats and appropriate technologies are adopted to ensure those with disabilities can seek and receive information online.
The National Transition Strategy - The primary policy that focussed on web accessibility in terms of the implementation of, and continued compliance with, the WCAG 2.0.
The implementation of web accessibility law tends to begin with government and public service websites, before expanding to cover more private sector organisations. However, even if you don’t think current legislation affects your business, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put the same amount of effort into making your website accessible to as many users as possible.
Making your website accessible is the right thing to do, and the benefits include enhanced brand reputation, increased market share and profit, and reduced legal risk.
How to Comply with the DDA
The key for website owners is to adopt a design and layout that is clear enough so that most people can use it, while also supporting those who need to make adaptions. Many people assume this process would be complicated and costly, but that is generally not the case.
“Many of the most common accessibility issues making sites difficult or impossible to use in a non-traditional way can be easily fixed.”
Sam Stemler, web accessibility author
Under the DDA, companies must make reasonable adjustments to their websites to make them more inclusive. The four cornerstones of the guidelines for compliance require websites to be:
Perceivable – Accommodating for various sensory differences in vision, sound, and touch so that users can comprehend and consume web content.
Operable – User interface and navigation components on a website must be usable by all.
Understandable – Both website information and the operation of the user interface itself must be consistent and coherent.
Robust – The website must be standards compliant and function using all applicable technologies, including assistive software.
Assistive Technology Solutions
Software solutions like the Recite Me assistive toolbar help websites to be inclusive through a suite of customisable accessibility and language options. When equipped with Recite Me software, websites become instantly accessible, readable, and much easier to understand.
Our software has been designed with WCAG principles at the core of the product. However, our goal is to do much more than simply ‘check the box’ on compliance for reasonable adjustments. Recite Me is about creating a totally inclusive digital environment, where users can:
- Personalise font size, type, and colour options to make each web page easier to read. This is beneficial to readers who have dyslexia, dyspraxia, colour blindness, or decreased vision in general.
- Download content as an audio file, which is excellent for those with vision problems.
- Access text to speak functions in 35 different languages, which is beneficial for all site visitors with English literacy issues. The text can be read aloud at varying speeds with either a male or female voice, which is great for autistic users too.
- Utilise the screen mask and ruler, allowing those with ADHD and other attention disorders to focus rather than being distracted by other content on the page.
- Convert text content into over 100 different on-screen languages. Ideal for those for whom English is not their first language.
- Make use of the toolbar’s built-in dictionary and thesaurus to check word definitions. This is particularly important for users with conditions like hyperlexia, who can read words but not necessarily understand their meaning.
- Switch to “text-only” mode. This feature is favoured by those with conditions like Epilepsy, as they can strip away any media or graphics that may cause a seizure.
Want to Know More?
Are you confused by any of the legal jargon and terms? Or unsure whether your website meets the DDA criteria for compliance?
Feel free to contact our team for more advice and information. You can also schedule a demonstration of our toolbar in action if you’d like to get a better idea of how it works and how it can help you attain a more perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust online experience.