Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy: Introduction
Websites that are developed under principles of universal design, with a focus on accessibility, are more usable for everybody, regardless of age, ethnicity or disability. By improving government website accessibility, we support the objectives of the planned National Disability Strategy and the goals of the recently ratified UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We also create a more socially inclusive environment in which people can access information and services and engage with government. In Australia, the 2003 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey of disability, ageing and carers found that one in five people (about four million Australians) reported that they had a disability1.
The requirement for Australian Government departments and agencies to provide accessible information and online services has been a component of each e-Government Strategy since 2000. The initial strategy outlined the requirement for all government websites to comply with the World Wide Web Consortium’s2 (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 1.0.
The Australian National Audit Office, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) and the Australian Human Rights Commission have supported agencies in meeting their accessibility obligations via the publication of advice recommending the WCAG 1.0 as the accepted standard for Australian Government websites.
With advances in technology for websites and online services, WCAG 1.0 has become outdated and was recently upgraded by the W3C to WCAG version 2.0.
Australian governments at all levels have endorsed WCAG 2.0, and require all government websites (federal, state and territory) to meet the new guidelines at the minimum compliance level (Single A) by the end of 2012. In addition, the Australian Government requires all federal websites to meet the medium conformance level (Double A) by the end of 2014.
AGIMO (part of the Department of Finance and Deregulation) was tasked with developing a whole-of-government strategy, primarily for federal government websites, for transition to WCAG 2.0. AGIMO was also tasked to lead a cross-jurisdictional project, on behalf of states and territories, to coordinate the national implementation of WCAG 2.0 in a unified, consistent and cost-effective manner.
This document, the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, sets out the strategy and work plan for transition to, and implementation of, WCAG 2.0 over a four-year period.
Web accessibility encompasses all disabilities that affect access to the web, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive and neurological disabilities. WCAG 2.0 identifies techniques to create and manage web content (i.e. dynamic and static textual, visual, or audio electronic information) in ways that are more accessible to people with disabilities – for example, through assistive technologies like screen readers. Websites that are more accessible are also generally more user-friendly to everyone.
The difference between WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 is a change in focus from technological and code-specific guidance to user-centric guidance, based on four principles of accessibility. Rather than just meeting specific technical criteria (e.g. noting how tables should be marked up in HTML), WCAG 2.0 stipulates that content should be ‘perceivable’, ‘operable’, ‘understandable’ and ‘robust’.
Both WCAG 1.0 and 2.0 use a three-level rating system to identify the level of accessibility. In WCAG 2.0, level Single A (A) is the basic, moving through Double A (AA) and Triple A (AAA)3. Triple A is the most technically difficult level, but is also considered to provide the most accessible environment for a wider range of users. The W3C notes that even at Triple A conformance, some users will still experience some difficulty in accessing content.
At the end of 2009, the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board endorsed the Australian Government’s transition to WCAG 2.0. The endorsement requires all Australian Government websites to implement WCAG 2.0 to meet the middle level of conformance (Double A) over a four-year period. The Governance Board’s authority applies to agencies managed under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act). Agencies managed under the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act) are encouraged to opt-in to the National Transition Strategy as a demonstration of their commitment to accessible websites.
The Online and Communications Council also endorsed WCAG 2.0, requiring all federal, state and territory websites to conform to the guidelines to meet Single A level within a two-year period (by the end of 2012).
Jurisdictions agreed to share resources and knowledge in an effort to save time and money, and to ensure a standardised adoption of the guidelines.
State and Territory jurisdictions may, at their own discretion, elect to conform to a higher level (Double or Triple A) in a revised or extended timeframe. However, in order to harmonise a national transition, all governments should adopt the Double A level of conformance within four years. The National Transition Strategy is based upon a four-year transition to the Double A level.
By early 2015 the target is that all government websites will be more accessible due to their conformance with WCAG 2.0. Subject to their user base, it may be appropriate for some agencies to achieve Triple A compliance. Agencies have autonomy to determine their individual requirement for achieving a higher level of compliance with WCAG 2.0, as long as their basic compliance meets the requirement of the National Transition Strategy.
The Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board is the project sponsor for the Australian Government’s transition to WCAG 2.0, while the Online and Communications Council is the project sponsor for the transition in all states and territories. AGIMO is required to provide regular reports highlighting issues and progress status.
At the federal level, the Chief Information Officer Committee will oversee the implementation of the National Transition Strategy. At state and territory level, the Cross Jurisdictional Chief Information Officers’ Committee will manage the implementation on a state-by-state basis.
AGIMO will implement and manage reporting for the Australian Government and will seek consolidated reporting from states and territories. A reference group has been established to monitor progress and provide relevant input from an industry and societal perspective. Members include the Australian Human Rights Commission; the Attorney-General’s Department; the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; and representatives from state and territory jurisdictions.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics 2003, Disability, Ageing and Carers: summary of findings cat No. 4430.0, ABS Canberra.
- http://www.w3.org 
- The W3C uses the terms ‘Level A’, ‘Level AA’ and ‘Level AAA’. For ease of reading, we have standardised on ‘Single A’, ‘Double A’ and ‘Triple A’, to avoid repetition or confusion.
Contact for information on this page: WCAG2@finance.gov.au