Sunday 3 December 2023 is International Day of People with Disability. auDA invited Dr Kirsty Nowlan and Alex Jones from The Achieve Foundation to share their views on the importance of web accessibility for persons with disability. They write:
In today's digital age, access to the internet is crucial to the experience of inclusion. No one – no matter their location, level of digital confidence, or ability – should go without access. However, it is a sad reality that a significant number of people with disability face barriers in utilising the internet. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in July 2020 that 28.5% of people with disability did not use the internet, with over 250,000 individuals lacking the confidence or knowledge to do so.
There is a diverse set of challenges faced by individuals with disability in using the internet, from visual impairments and hearing loss to mobility and speech challenges. Individuals with visual impairments rely on screen reader software and Braille displays to access computer content. Those with colour blindness face challenges in distinguishing colours online. Individuals with learning disabilities may need audiobooks and specialised systems for text comprehension. Mobility-impaired users may require alternative input methods or wheelchair-accessible locations. This list is by no means the extensive version of challenges faced by people with disability in utilising the internet.
Vision for an inclusive Australia
It doesn’t need to be this way. There are tools that can enable people with disability to be full digital citizens. An emphasis on web accessibility by organisations can lead to several positive outcomes, including increased chances of finding employment, enhanced social status through online interactions, and a sense of belonging that comes from the ability to engage in conversations about the latest viral trend or scandal.
At The Achieve Foundation, we have a vision of an inclusive Australia for people with disability. The Achieve Foundation seeks to drive meaningful change that will benefit and enrich Australia through initiatives to increase employment opportunities for people with disability and drive attitudinal change.
The Achieve Foundation believes web accessibility plays a pivotal role in achieving these outcomes. By designing and developing websites with accessibility in mind, we can ensure that online content is easily perceivable, understandable, navigable, and interactive for individuals with auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, sensory, speech, and visual disabilities. Web accessibility ensures that people of all abilities can benefit from and contribute to the web, fostering a more inclusive digital environment.
Almost one in five Australians (18%) have a disability. By enhancing web accessibility, organisations and businesses stand to reach a larger audience, preventing the exclusion of a significant portion of the population. Web accessibility also aligns with the requirements under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), reinforcing the importance of equal access to online content for everyone.
Improving the accessibility of your web content
The Achieve Foundation supports auDA’s advice on improving the accessibility of your website or by making the following simple changes. auDA’s suggestions, as set out in the auDA web accessibility fact sheet, include:
- Use colours with care: High contrast colours aid individuals with impaired vision. Avoid low-contrast combinations and include descriptive text alongside colour indicators.
- Include Alt Text for images: Screen reading software relies on alt text to describe images. Including descriptive alt text ensures that individuals with visual impairments can comprehend the content.
- Use descriptive hyperlinks: Label links descriptively to provide context, benefiting users who navigate using screen readers.
- Appropriate heading tags: Consistent use of heading tags aids navigation for individuals using screen reading software, promoting a seamless browsing experience.
- Add form labels: Form labels provide essential context for web forms, assisting those using screen reading software or individuals with learning difficulties.
- Caption videos: Closed captions in videos benefit individuals with hearing loss. Opt for human-generated captions for accuracy.
- Provide accessible document formats: Offer Word or HTML versions of PDF documents, ensuring compatibility with screen reading software.
- Clear, consistent user interface: Maintain a clear and consistent interface design to facilitate navigation, particularly benefiting individuals with cognitive disability.
The Achieve Foundation believe prioritising web accessibility is not only a legal and ethical responsibility but also a pathway to a more inclusive and empowered society. By embracing accessible design principles, we can bridge the digital divide, ensuring that the internet serves as a platform for empowerment, social connection, and wellbeing for all, regardless of ability.
Dr Kirsty Nowlan is Executive Director of The Achieve Foundation. Kirsty has led systems change, research and policy initiatives for more than 20 years on issues including disability, child health, wellbeing and protection, trade policy and issues affecting fragile and conflict affected states. She is also a director on two other for-purpose boards: Peacifica, and The Centre for Social Purpose.
Alex Jones is the lead on The Achieve Foundation’s Disability Employment Catalyst. Alex has served in various capacities as a chair, board member, and committee participant across corporate, government and non-government sectors. Alex passionately advocates for transforming Australian society’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours towards individuals with disability as well as those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
The Achieve Foundation was established to create real and sustainable change by supporting research and establishing programs at the intersection of disability, social inclusion and philanthropy. It exists to help build an Australia in which people with disability are welcomed and feel a true sense of belonging. The Achieve Foundation honours the involvement of people with disability in all aspects of its work and within the organisation and board.
auDA is committed to web accessibility. As we rebuild our website in 2023-24, we are focused on making our content more accessible and sharing information on accessibility with our stakeholders and community.
The views expressed are the author’s own.