Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Australian Experiences with Accessibility Policies Post the Sydney Olympic Games

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Australian Experiences with Accessibility Policies Post the Sydney Olympic Games

Article excerpt


Accessibility policy varies from one country to another. Many of the standards in the United States of American are set by government legislation, most notably the Section 508 requirements. In Australia the requirement is for the adoption of 'best practice'. Currently that is defined through the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) 'Notes' (HREOC, 2002a) which show application of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to Australian situations.

The HREOC 'Notes' are not legal requirements, but do give service providers advice on how to avoid discrimination. HREOC's Notes interpret the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) to specify that equal access for people with a disability is required by law where it can reasonably be provided. This is as applicable to individuals and organisations developing web pages and online services as it is to access in the physical world. While in Australia it may not be illegal to have an inaccessible web site, it is illegal to discriminate; thus an inaccessible web site may not be discriminatory if alternative, equivalent, access to the information or service is provided.

The AusInfo (2000) and National Office of the Information Economy (2002) accessibility guidelines apply to Australian government sites. Like the HREOC Notes, these guidelines are also based on those of the W3C. Effectively this means that whilst the HREOC Notes and Government guidelines show application of WCAG to Australian situations, it is the international accessibility guidelines that are the predominant focus of best practice in this area. This contrasts with the US and a few other countries where local accessibility regulations have been developed.

While government in Australia was the initiator in establishing accessibility policy for online activity and eGovernment, many of these policies have remained effectively unchanged since the late 1990s. In recent years other sectors of the economy have come to the fore with respect to online accessibility policy and 'leapfrogged' the government with policies that sometimes leave the government position looking languid. The Commonwealth and State Governments all require accessibility conformance with WCAG, but as most don't specify the level, the lowest level has been adopted. Some States have recently raised the bar for accessibility and require or recommend WCAG Double-A as the goal. Non-government sectors in Australia are also leading the way forward in the area of accessibility. The Australian Bankers Association (ABA) "Disability Action Plan" (DAP) calls for the banks to improve the accessibility of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs), Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS), Automated Telephone Banking, and Internet Banking. The Internet Banking standards call for conformance with WCAG 1.0 Double-A as well as incorporating some WCAG 1.0 Priority 3 and some US Section 508 checkpoints. The "Accessible Web Action Plan" from the Internet Industry Association and the Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (IIA/AIMIA, 2002) was developed to provide a best practice model for their members and assist them to eliminate, as far as possible, barriers for people with disabilities in the provision of Internet, or online-based goods, services and facilities.

The Legal Information Standards Council has developed a "Usability and Accessibility Checklist" and "Best Practice Guidelines for Legal Web Sites" (Law Reform Foundation, 2001) to assist web site developers create accessible, usable legal web sites. The Australia Education Systems Officials Committee has drafted "Disability Standards for Education" that will apply to all government and privately supplied education in Australia and apply equally to on-site and online education provision (AESOC, 2002).

The single most significant influence on the development of accessibility policy in Australia has arguably been the litigation brought against the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG). …

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