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The Australian Government has endorsed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 for all government websites. This requirement supersedes the previous mandate for compliance with WCAG 1.0.
Advice on how to meet the new standard, including the full scope of the upgrade, is detailed in the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS), published on the Department of Finance (Finance) website.
The previous Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Hon. Lindsay Tanner, with the previous Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, the Hon. Bill Shorten, MP, detailed endorsement of the new guidelines in a media release on 23 February 2010, and announced the release of the NTS on 30 June 2010.
Accessibility requirements for websites are mandated under government policy, legislation, and through whole-of-government commitments.
In November 2009, the Online and Communications Council (OCC) endorsed WCAG 2.0, requiring all Australian, state and territory government websites to conform to the guidelines to meet WCAG 2.0 Level A by December 2012. The Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board (SIGB) extended the requirement for Australian Government (Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997) (FMA Act) agencies to conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard by December 2014.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 agencies must ensure that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights to access information and services as others in the community.
Furthermore, in 2008, the Australian Government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which specifically recognises (under Articles 9 and 21) that access to information, communications and services, including the internet, is a human right.
Agencies must update all government websites (as specified within scope under the NTS) to WCAG 2.0 conformance
Agencies are encouraged to seek WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance from the outset, but must still meet the minimum requirements of the NTS (including Level A conformance by December 2012).
Agencies unable to conform to WCAG 2.0 within the approved timeframes or at the mandated conformance level must seek approval from the Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) to opt-out from this arrangement, as detailed in the NTS.
Agencies will be required to regularly report to SIGB and the OCC, through Finance, on their progress to WCAG 2.0 conformance in line with the NTS. The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), within Finance, will provide advice to agencies on the reporting requirements as appropriate.
The full scope of the upgrade required (including issues of retrospectivity) is discussed in the NTS. Briefly:
Until otherwise stated, agencies must not rely upon any web technology that cannot claim WCAG 2.0 conformance. That is, any technology may be used, but where it cannot prove its accessibility support, agencies must provide multiple accessible formats. Web technologies that claim accessibility support must prove WCAG 2.0 conformance through the use of WCAG 2.0 sufficient techniques.
Agencies are reminded that it is still a requirement to publish an alternative to all PDF documents (preferably in HTML). Recommendations of the PDF Accessibility Review Study were focused on providing better education for the creation of more accessible PDFs. Agencies are encouraged to use the slides and information from the series of PDF Accessibility Education Sessions for the Australian Government to help improve the accessibility of the PDF documents they create.
Agencies must abide by the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes in order to mitigate risk of disability discrimination complaint. Agencies must provide other alternative formats upon request, but should not rely on this defence, nor consider it an appropriate long-term solution to providing accessible versions. Alternative formats should always be published at the same time.
Content should be created in ways that support and maximise accessibility. Agencies should consider the varied needs of their users, and plan for accessibility from the outset. Where accessibility problems are known, agencies should put in place implementation plans to address the problem, then endeavour to minimise future risk by using standards-based web technologies and best practice content management processes.
Agencies should use the principle of progressive enhancement when building and managing websites, and test for conformance across multiple browsers and operating system configurations.
Agencies should ensure staff within web, communication, and information technology areas are appropriately educated on WCAG 2.0 and the NTS. Agencies should also begin implementing WCAG 2.0 by following the process outlined in the NTS, seeking advice as necessary from AGIMO.
Further detailed technical advice on how to implement WCAG 2.0 across the three phases of the NTS (Preparation, Transition and Implementation) will be published on the Web Guide. Agencies should refer to the website regularly, or seek updates via the Community of Expertise (CoE).
AGIMO has established a collaborative space to support a Community of Expertise (CoE) for the transition to, and implementation of, WCAG 2.0. If you are interested in participating:
Last Reviewed: 2011-04-01