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NTS report on government web accessibility released

A progress report released by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) shows that while there is an increase in the number of government websites that comply with international web standards, there is still much progress to be made. The report shows how government has progressed with complying with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, as mandated in 2010 by the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS).

Announced on the AGIMO blog, the report is a result of a survey of agencies during the first half of 2013. Comments made with its release stated it is unlikely government will meet deadlines set by the NTS. However a framework to help government continue implementing web accessibility beyond the 2014 deadline will be developed. “It is clear that some websites and some web applications will not meet the ambitious 2014 timeframe for WCAG 2.0 level AA conformance,” said Australian Government Chief Information Officer Glenn Archer.

“In light of this, and to ensure the Australian Government’s web environment meets high accessibility standards, AGIMO will articulate a framework for continuous improvement beyond 2014 and embed WCAG 2.0 into all appropriate aspects of government web guides and standards.”

The report also identified challenges in meeting conformance including finite funding and resources for implementing and monitoring accessibility requirements and legacy content and documents which affect website accessibility.

Bret Treasure, Chairman of the Australian Web Industry Association (AWIA), has described efforts towards web accessibility by government as “tokenism”, and renewed calls for investment in training, as well as mandating for realistic accessibility improvements.

“What an awful disappointment for those who believed the Government’s promise to make a difference in this area. While services are increasingly delivered online and through mobile technology, government is paying lip service to accessibility and walking away from its leadership role,” Treasure said.

With the acknowledgement that existing conformance targets will no longer be met and no new timelines or mandates put in place, Mr Treasure raised concerns about the impact this will have on Australia’s web industry.

“This has ramifications for how web accessibility is perceived and approached by industry. Unfortunately, many web developers will be telling their clients they don’t need to act now on accessibility.”

91 government agencies responded to the interim survey that reviewed progress of the first two and a half years of the NTS. The first major implementation milestone states that Australian government websites are required to meet Level A of WCAG 2.0 by the end of 2012. As at that date, only 26 per cent of websites were reported to meet any level of WCAG 2.0 (A, AA or AAA). This is an improvement from the launch of the NTS in June 2010, where only 5 per cent of websites met any level of WCAG 2.0.

Despite this increase, 378 government websites were identified as not-conforming to any level of WCAG 2.0. Almost half of these websites have solely focused on meeting WCAG 2.0 Level AA by the end of 2014 (the final implementation milestone), and almost 45 per cent claim to meet WCAG requirements that are specific to online content.

At the time of the survey being completed, the accessibility requirement status for more than 40 percent of all government websites was unknown, but up to 80 of these websites are expected to be decommissioned or archived by the end of next year.

New websites developed by government since the NTS began saw slightly better results, with 39 per cent of websites claiming to meet a level of WCAG (A, AA or AAA) at launch, while a quarter of websites did not. 35 per cent of new government websites from the June 2010 to December 2012 period launched without being verified for accessibility conformance.

The accessibility of web applications was also reported on. 16 per cent of applications met accessibility conformance at the end of 2012, a significant improvement from 2.27 per cent in 2010. More than 300 additional government web applications are expected to have accessibility enhancements in place by the end of 2014.

The progress report stated that 80 per cent of agencies reported completing manual checks of their websites for accessibility, and more than 50 agencies engaged with outside service providers to assist them with conforming to accessibility requirements. To ensure future content produced complies with WCAG standards, 85 per cent of agencies stated that they had already changed their content management system (CMS) or were planning to migrate to a new CMS in the future.

Recognising there is significant work ahead to meet required accessibility standards, the report suggests agencies conduct conformance assessments for any of the websites and web applications that have not yet been reviewed.  In addition, agencies should assign priority levels for review of websites and web applications, with a focus on online content. Finally, agencies should update current web policies to reflect WCAG 2.0 conformance.

The full National Transition Strategy progress report is available to view on the AGIMO website.


*Original link to article can be found here.

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