With 18% of the Australian population living with some form of a disability, eliminating barriers to website accessibility remains a challenge. In this blog, AusRegistry’s Maggie Whitnall explores this important topic with the support of Gunela Astbrink from the Internet Society of Australia.
Today marks an important day in the calendar for people living with a disability, their families and carers. International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) is celebrated each year on 3rd December as a United Nations sanctioned day aimed at increasing public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with a disability, while also encouraging greater inclusion and accessibility.
In recognition of this day, I thought it was timely to pose the following question: What can Australia’s domain name and website hosting industries do to support equal web access for all?
Around the world, people with a disability face physical, social, economic and attitudinal barriers that exclude them from participating fully and effectively as equal members of society.
Unfortunately, these barriers are also prevalent within our own industry and the topic of website accessibility is an issue that affects the lives of many people living with a disability.
The scale and importance of this issue was best articulated to me by Gunela Astbrink, a vocal advocate for the rights of people with a disability and a Director of the Internet Society of Australia. Ms Astbrink was an ambassador for the recently held Australian Internet Governance Forum (auIGF) where she led a panel discussion on the accessibility of online services.
Access to information and communication technologies creates opportunities to everyone in society, but perhaps no-more so than for people with a disability. As the Australian Human Rights Commission notes, companies need to actively think about this issue because they have an obligation to remove discrimination and promote equal participation.
Despite advances in recent times – especially with the Australian Government mandating the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 for all government websites – many people with a disability remain unable to take full advantage of the Internet due to poor website accessibility.
Following auIGF, I sat down with Ms Astbrink to discuss website accessibility.
“I am delighted that AusRegistry is spreading awareness in the sector. Thank you for taking this initiative. Designing for accessibility means designing for the whole community. Websites can be exciting and accessible. In fact, innovative, intuitive and adaptive websites can go hand in hand with accessibility,” Ms Astbrink said.
“Embedding accessibility in your communications policy and creating awareness among your marketing, content development and technical teams means that accessibility isn’t compromised when a site is updated or redesigned.”
The business case
Making information technologies available to people with a disability is not only a matter of basic human rights, it also makes good business sense.
Incredibly, the UN estimate more than one billion people around the world live with some form of disability. Locally, Ms Astbrink told me the Australian Bureau of Statistics say over 18% of the population report they have a disability.
In terms of direct relevance to website accessibility, Ms Astbrink explains that this is difficult to estimate. Common conditions such as colour blindness affects 10% of the population but may not be included in disability statistics. A person with a leg amputation would not be affected by web accessibility but someone with limited hand movement would be. There are some people who do not reveal their disability and therefore are not counted in disability statistics.
Clearly, there is a large online consumer base being overlooked. Any company would be foolish to neglect this group – both from an equity and commercial perspective.
Furthermore, the UN cite a recent British study which showed UK companies were forfeiting £80 billion in lost revenue with around three-quarters of company websites not achieving basic levels of accessibility.
This is not to mention the intuitive benefits that best-practice web accessibility design brings. According to Ms Astbrink, research suggests that accessible websites achieve higher SEO rankings than those that do not conform to web accessibility standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and WebAIM have both explored this topic in depth.
What can we do?
Obviously, our industry – particularly Registrars and website development companies – are uniquely positioned to be able to encourage and practice accessible web design within the community.
If we as an industry are able to create greater awareness about why website accessibility options are important, we might be able to make a small but positive impact on this issue.
Greater awareness is the first step. For instance, Ms Astbrink alerted me to the fact that the AusRegistry website could improve accessibility in a number of areas. Admittedly, without Ms Astbrink bringing this to my attention, we would not have known about these issues.
Most of the changes are all relatively straightforward and we are now in the process of addressing them (A big thanks to Ms Astbrink for raising this with me!).
See, that’s the crux of this issue. With greater awareness and understanding of website accessibility, I suspect most companies would be more than receptive to this important issue.
In an attempt to create greater awareness and encourage change, I asked Ms Astbrink to provide us with her top 10 tips for website accessibility. We’ll be encouraging our .au Accredited Registrars to be mindful of these tips for their own websites and those of their clients. Perhaps others will follow suit.
Gunela Astbrink’s top 10 website accessibility tips
(These tips are a good starting point. For full information, please go to W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0).
Use the alt attribute to meaningfully describe images – not ‘image 1’
- Adds context to content for blind people using screen reading software
- SEO = search engines mainly index on text
Use section headings with H1 to H6 elements to organise content
- For people with reading difficulties and for blind people using assistive technology to more easily understand the structure of the content
- SEO = used by search engines
Use form labels
- Essential for a blind user with screen reading software to understand the context of the form. Also important for people with reading difficulties using assistive technology
Use colours carefully
- If colour differences convey information (i.e. stop/go), also include text for the 10% of people who are colour blind
- Have sufficient colour contrast between text and background
Allow keyboard control
- for people with physical disability who cannot use a mouse
Use valid HTML
- Enables assistive technologies to work properly on websites
- Important for people with hearing impairments and for people with English as a second language
- SEO = search engines mainly index on text
Provide HTML, rtf or doc version of PDF documents
- Screen reading software for blind people cannot access some PDFs
- Refer to Government PDF guidelines
Make links descriptive – not ‘read more’
- Makes links meaningful to users of screen reading software especially if tabbing through links
Use a text-only browser to check your site
- SEO = equates to the action of a search engine bot