Australian Human Rights Commission updates their Web Advisory Notes

The Australian Human Rights Commission have updated their Disability Discrimination Act: Web Advisory Notes. There are a lot of changes, the most important being of course, the endorsement of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, Version 2.0. However there are many other interesting additions. All quotes are directly from the updated Disability Discrimination Act: Web Advisory Notes. All emphasis is mine.

Accessibility is needed throughout the design of a site

“… creating accessible web content should be an integral part of the web design cycle, and accessibility features should be incorporated into all aspects of the design process.”

United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

“While the Australian Government has primary responsibility for meeting Australia’s obligations under the Convention, all sections of society, including industry, educational institutions, and community organisations, must play an active role in upholding the rights established by the Convention. Accordingly, any failure to provide full access to the web and other internet-based technologies for people with a disability may be seen as a violation of human rights.”

Encouraging the use of multiple formats

“There are wide variations in the accessibility of different file formats, and some formats are generally considered to be more suited to a particular type of content than others. Feedback that the Commission has received from users and web accessibility experts suggests that traditional HTML is the most universally accessible format. Other formats have advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when deciding which format to use. For example, the RTF format is considered to be more generic, but it is less suited than Microsoft Office Word to representing complex tables so that they can be navigated successfully by screen-reading software. In general, material will be accessible to the greatest number of users when it is published in multiple accessible formats.”

Documents that cannot be made accessible

“It should also be borne in mind that some content cannot be made accessible online to some people with a disability, especially if it is inherently graphical in nature. Organisations that make such content available online need to consider strategies for making it accessible, for example, by providing text descriptions of pictorial content, or using qualified contractors to produce tactual maps and diagrams on request.”


“The Commission’s advice, current October 2010, is therefore that PDF cannot be regarded as a sufficiently accessible format to provide a user experience for a person with a disability that is equivalent to that available to a person without a disability, and which is also equivalent to that obtained from using the document marked up in traditional HTML.”

“The Commission will review the accessibility of PDF documents again in 2013, by which time it is expected that the provision, support, and utilisation of accessibility features will have improved.”

Document security

“Some file formats provide mechanisms for enhancing the security of documents by preventing unauthorised editing, copying, or printing. Some of these mechanisms are not compatible with accessibility for people with a disability, and document authors should ensure that security features do not prevent access to the document by assistive technology.”

“If there are concerns about ensuring the authenticity of material published on the web in multiple formats, then a statement should be included that specifies which format is to be regarded as definitive or authorised, and noting that additional formats are being provided to maximise access.”

People with cognitive disabilities

“It should be emphasised, however, that accessibility of web content cannot always be achieved solely through compliance with WCAG 2.0. In addition to these Guidelines, web designers and authors will need to make themselves familiar with a range of tools, resources, and emerging best-practice solutions, as they meet their accessibility goals and responsibilities under the DDA and the Convention. This is particularly the case in areas that are not comprehensively addressed in WCAG 2.0, such as the needs of people with cognitive disabilities.

The role of the accessibility specialist

“The Commission strongly encourages web designers to use expert advice and information that is up to date with web content publishing and access challenges and solutions. A number of Australian companies and organisations provide consultancy and design services with specialisation in accessibility. There is currently no national accreditation system for expertise in this area, so potential clients of such services should use standard assessment practices such as speaking with referees and examining samples of their work.

Ten common web accessibility failures

  1. “Failure to include appropriate text descriptions (such as “alt-text” labels) for images;
  2. Failure to provide accessible alternatives when using a visual CAPTCHA;
  3. Failure to use technologies (such as Flash and JavaScript) in ways that are accessible;
  4. Failure to use HTML features appropriately to indicate content structure such as the hierarchy of headings;
  5. Failure to explicitly associate form input controls with their labels;
  6. Failure to ensure sufficient difference between foreground (text) colour and background colour;
  7. Failure to identify data tables with Summary or Caption, and failure to mark-up data tables correctly;
  8. Failure to provide a way for users to disable content such as advertisements from flashing rapidly (rapidly-flashing content may cause seizures in susceptible individuals), and failure to provide a way for users to stop a page from auto-refreshing;
  9. Failure to ensure that web pages can be used from the keyboard (that is, without the mouse);
  10. Failure to alert the user to changes on a web page that are triggered automatically when selecting items from a dropdown menu.”

Gian Wild is offering a “Ten common failures” review for web sites that want an overall picture of their accessibility compliance.

Transitioning to WCAG2 – Government

“All Australian government websites should comply with the timelines and conformance requirements of the NTS, whether or not they are specifically mandated to do so. In particular, state and territory governments are strongly encouraged to comply with the AA conformance level that applies to Commonwealth Government websites.

Transitioning to WCAG2 – non-Government web sites

  • “Non-government websites and web resources whose development commences after July 1 2010 should comply with WCAG 2.0 to a minimum of AA-Level conformance;
  • Existing non-government websites or web resources that undergo substantial change in the period July 2010 – December 2013 should comply with WCAG 2.0 to a minimum level of AA conformance;
  • All existing non-government websites and web content should comply with WCAG 2.0 to a minimum level of AA conformance by December 31 2013.”

Accessibility supported technologies

“WCAG 2.0 does not provide a list of accessibility supported technologies, since such a list is likely to require regular updating and is likely to have local variation. The Commission will be working with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and other stakeholders to develop more detailed advice about technologies (and features of technologies) that are considered to be accessibility supported in the Australian context.”

“Until such advice is available, web developers should give serious consideration to using those technologies that are known to be compatible with WCAG 1.0. In cases where this is not practical, they should seek expert accessibility advice before using other technologies.”

Limits on obligation to comply with the DDA: Web Advisory Notes

“The advice provided in these notes is intended to give effect to the requirement of the DDA for access to be provided without unreasonable barriers that exclude or disadvantage people with disability. In some (but not all) circumstances, obligations under the DDA to provide equal access are limited by the concept of unjustifiable hardship.”

“Where issues of unjustifiable hardship have to be decided, section 11 of the DDA requires the courts to consider all relevant circumstances of the case, including:

  • The nature of the benefit or detriment likely to accrue, or be suffered by, any persons concerned;
  • The effect of the disability of a person concerned;
  • The financial circumstances, and the estimated amount of expenditure required to be made, by the person claiming unjustifiable hardship
  • The availability of financial and other assistance to the person claiming unjustifiable hardship; and
  • In the case of the provision of services, or the making available of facilities—any relevant action plans given to the Commission under section 64 of the DDA.”