1.4. Capability Assessment

Not all agencies have access to the WCAG 2.0 skills and experience that will allow them to confidently progress their conformance as required under the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS). Completing a WCAG 2.0 capability assessment will assist agencies in developing a clear view of their current level of WCAG 2.0 skills as well as any skills gap. Improving knowledge and acquiring skills will assist agencies in a successful implementation of the NTS.

Why should I?

Within Phase 1: Preparation, under work item 1.4, agencies are asked to complete a capability assessment to determine the level of WCAG 2.0 skills they currently have access to, both internally and via their contractors, and identify any knowledge gaps.

An assessment of the scope of any future staff training needs or outsourcing requirements will support the agencies progression to WCAG 2.0 conformance. Once an agency can identify their training need and reports their skill requirement, specific training and education programs can be developed for access by all agencies. The first four work items of Phase 1 will provide the determination for the Risk Assessment, work item 1.5 of the NTS.

How do I?

An overview of the tasks that agencies might consider in their capability assessment include:

  1. Determine what skills are required: understand the WCAG 2.0 related skills and experience that will be needed.
  2. Determine what skills are available to the agency: of the required skills and experience, which are currently present and accessible to the agency? How may staff possess these skills and at what level of proficiency?
  3. Identify knowledge gaps and training or outsourcing needs: what is the shortfall between required skills/experience and those currently available to the agency? What training or outsourcing can be employed to close the gap between required and currently available skills and experience?

Determine what skills are required

In general, the skill sets that underpin a working knowledge of WCAG 2.0 may include:

  • Familiarity with (creating, reading, or testing) common web technologies and file formats, including, but not limited to:
    • client-side web technologies: (X)HTML (particularly the use of semantic mark-up), CSS (separating presentation from content), JavaScript, Flash etc.
    • desktop publishing formats: PDF, RTF, MS Office and OpenOffice file types
    • time-based media formats: wmv, avi, ogg, mkv, mpeg, mp3, etc.
  • appropriate use of images/multimedia and text alternatives
  • awareness of common user agents (e.g. web browsers and assistive technologies) and interaction methods (e.g. keyboard-only)
  • effective communication skills applicable to online environment (e.g. writing for the web)
  • an up to date understanding of WCAG 2.0; the intent of WCAG 2.0 Principles, Guidelines and Success Criteria, how to conform to the standard and how to test for conformance.

Exploring the required skill sets in more detail

Client side web technologies

A good grounding in current client-side web technologies such as (X)HTML, CSS and JavaScript is required for understanding and testing against a large portion of the WCAG 2.0 success criteria.

Experience in (X)HTML should include an understanding of semantically correct use of (X)HTML, which in broad terms means knowing which (X)HTML elements to use in specific contexts when marking up content on a website. In particular, this should include an understanding of the semantically correct way to mark up headings, paragraphs, lists, tables and form controls.

Experience in CSS should include an understanding of how it is used to style content that has been structured using (X)HTML, ideally in a way that the visual presentation of the content is separate from its structure.

JavaScript, Flash, Silverlight and other such technologies will generally require a suitably experienced developer to fully understand their use. Although, it may be possible to test website functionality that relies on these technologies without fully understanding their workings. Experience in client side proprietary technologies such as Flash or Silverlight may also be relevant but these technologies are less common on government websites.

Understanding how the relevant client side technologies are used, what their role is and what their limitations are is vitally important.

Desktop publishing formats

Most government staff should be familiar with some or all of the common document formats used in the modern office workplace, for example PDF, RTF, MS Office and OpenOffice file types. Along with an understanding of how such document formats are consumed, it is essential to also have an understanding of how documents using these formats should be created to ensure as high a level of accessibility as possible. The Australian Government’s study of the accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability provides specific information about the accessibility of PDF files.

Time-Based Media formats

The term ‘time-based media’ usually refers to content that is audio-only, video-only or a combination of audio and video. It can also refer to animation and interactive content. The most common forms of time-based media on government websites tend to be either audio-only or synchronised audio-visual multimedia. While in many cases the production of time-based media tends to be outsourced by government agencies, it is important that agencies have a working knowledge of the accessibility requirements that must be applied to time-based media, particularly WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.2.

Another strong component of the new accessibility compliance requirements relate to the use of the keyboard only. Agencies should familiarise themselves with the benefits and limitations of embedded media players to ensure time-based media hosted on government websites meets WCAG 2.0 conformance in full.

Appropriate use of images and text alternatives

A large part of creating accessible web content comes down to the appropriate use of images and text alternatives. The text alternative should not necessarily be a literal description of the non-text content; rather it should serve the same purpose and convey the same information as the original non-text content for which it is a replacement. This is a subtle but important distinction that must be understood in order to judge whether a given text alternative is adequate. It is necessary that relevant agency staff are aware of how to appropriately use of images and text alternatives on the web.

Awareness of common user agents and interaction methods

The term ‘user agent’ refers to software such as web browsers as well as assistive technologies that are the means by which people interact with websites and web content. Agencies should be aware of the capabilities and limitations of common user agents employed by their audience.

Underpinning a large amount of accessibility features of websites and computers in general is keyboard support. Different user agents may vary the keyboard shortcuts available to achieve the same outcomes and may display and allow access to content in slightly different ways. Agency web staff should be aware of how a keyboard can be used to navigate around a website when employing relevant user agents, the common difficulties that can be encountered when using keyboard navigation and the importance of cross-user agent testing in general.

Effective communication skills applicable to online environment

It would be beneficial for relevant agency staff to have experience in clear written communication, particularly as it relates to writing for the web.

An up to date understanding of WCAG 2.0

Agency staff involved in undertaking WCAG 2.0 conformance related work should have a strong working knowledge of the WCAG 2.0 Principles, Guidelines and Success Criteria and how they can be practically applied. It is essential agency staff work from the most current WCAG 2.0 standard, always available at: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/. There are also many commercial WCAG 2.0 information courses available as well as online webinars which may be accessed for free.

Accessibility and Usability

There is a difference between ‘accessibility and ‘usability’. While both ‘accessibility’ and ‘usability’ (sometimes written as ‘useability’) are important factors, WCAG 2.0 is primarily concerned with accessibility.

‘Accessibility’ is defined by the International Standards Organization (ISO), as ”the usability of a product, service, environment, or facility by people with the widest range of capabilities”. Whereas, the ISO definition of ‘usability’ is: “the extent to which a product can be used to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use”.

Determine what skills are available to the agency

Agencies must ensure that the required skill sets are available to them, in some combination of in-house and/or outsourced resources.

Depth of experience in the various required skill sets will naturally vary; it may be helpful for agencies to classify the skill levels of available staff as well as to ascertain exactly how many staff have the required skill sets (or parts thereof) and can use them to aid their agency in implementing the NTS.

Some general examples of roles that are often related to administering agency websites or supplying content for such websites and how they might be classified in terms of WCAG 2.0 experience:

  • Expert
  • An expert WCAG 2.0 skill set would most often be found in a suitably knowledgeable web developer, designer or specialist in usability/accessibility. They would have some combination of experience in most, if not all, of the previously mentioned skill sets. Ideally, an expert will have direct previous experience with developing/designing and testing websites to ensure conformance to WCAG 2.0. But even if relatively new to WCAG 2.0 they should be able to quickly understand and implement it, due to their background.

  • Intermediate
  • An intermediate WCAG 2.0 skill set might be found in a desktop publishing/graphic design role or similar. They would have some combination of general computer experience, knowledge of desktop/multimedia publishing formats, experience in graphic design and writing for the web. This skill set may be useful for assisting with aspects of WCAG 2.0 conformance and testing but people at this level will likely have trouble understanding the technical detail and holistic practical application of WCAG 2.0 without additional training.

  • Beginner
  • A beginner WCAG 2.0 skill set might be found in a communications/public affairs or similar role. They would have some combination of general computer experience and knowledge of communications and writing for the web. Again a person with this skill set may be useful for assisting with aspects of WCAG 2.0 conformance and testing but will find it difficult to reach a full understanding of the issues without further training.

How many and how experienced

Agencies should already have completed work item 1.1 (Agency Website Stocktake) and established the size of their web estate. Agencies now need to consider the number of WCAG 2.0 capable staff in contrast to the size of the agency web estate. Logically, a larger web estate will usually require more WCAG 2.0 capable staff in order to complete the transition to WCAG 2.0, and agencies with a small number of basic websites will also only require a small number of experienced staff (or may elect to outsource some of the work).

In resource planning, agencies could consider creating a breakdown of which staff possessing the required skill sets are available to work on the Accessibility Conformance Check and Web Infrastructure Assessment (NTS Work items 1.2 and 1.3), which skill sets they possess and what their level of proficiency with each skill set may be.

How exactly agencies choose to classify the skill sets of available staff and how many staff tasked with implementing the NTS and WCAG 2.0 are operational considerations that are for agencies to determine. The information provided above is only a guide.

Identify knowledge gaps and training or outsourcing needs

Any required WCAG 2.0 skill sets not currently available to agencies constitute a knowledge gap that will need to be addressed via training existing staff, recruiting new staff, outsourcing or a combination of these approaches.

There are many outsourced providers and members of the web accessibility community that can provide WCAG 2.0 training.  While Phase 2: transition, Work item 2.1, of the NTS will be focussing more directly on WCAG 2.0 training and education, agencies should not feel discouraged from investigating training options for staff at an earlier stage if desired.

AGIMO will be investigating opportunities to develop whole-of-government WCAG 2.0 training packages.

At the conclusion of the capability assessment, agencies should have a clear understanding of the range and depth of skills available to them either internally, externally and in a combination of both, and be able to identify the training and skill acquisition required to progress to WCAG 2.0 conformance.

Last Reviewed: 2010-07-08