Online Census accessibility review - Pass or Fail

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016 10:04am

Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia’s ‘Specialist Advisor, Digital Accessibility’, undertook an accessibility review of the 9 August Census… conducted before, during, and after that fateful night. Unfortunately, the 2016 Census was a total debacle from go to woe… but did it pass or fail in terms of accessibility, in its online form? Find out in this fascinating podcast article.

Image of Census 'This site can't be reached' message

Image of Census 'This site can't be reached' message


Listen to the complete interview where Dr Scott Hollier chats to Philip Jenkinson about the accessibility of the online Census.


Read the transcript of Philip Jenkinson’s interview with Dr Scott Hollier on the accessibility of the online Census.


One of the good things to come out of what was otherwise a disastrous night for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), was a good news story about the things the Bureau actually got right, with the online survey form being largely accessible to people with a disability.

“The form was reasonably clear and well laid out,” said Dr Scott Hollier, who is legally blind. “It actually took myself and quite a number of accessibility specialists by surprise to discover that so much effort was put in.”

“In the shadow of #CensusFail, from my perspective I would actually argue that it’s absolutely imperative to make sure that the online version stays,” said Hollier. “The online version could be navigated quite comfortably with a screen reader and I found that the labelling on the form was quite effective in getting the screen reader to explain things and the options.”

“There was still a bit of room for improvement,” said Hollier, “and certainly the location of some of the buttons and some useability issues could have been addressed. But, it was quite clear that the ABS had spent a fair bit of time in making it accessible, which is a great news story.”

For the one in five Australians with some form of disability, knowing that there’s an online version that supports AT devices and is largely accessible should have been big news. But was this widely known?

“It wasn’t widely known,” said Hollier. “This was effectively the first time in Australia’s history that people with disabilities could effectively go online, complete the Census without assistance, using their own assistive technologies. And the fact that that isn’t being highlighted, really concerns me.”

So what should the ABS think about in the aftermath of the 2016 Census?

“I think the message for the ABS in the next round is, don’t scrap the online version,” said Hollier. “Don’t go back to only paper, because that’s quite inaccessible for a lot of people, but do make sure that the online Census is both accessible and available.”


Note: The ABS states that paper census forms must be returned by 18 September 2016. Those filling in the survey online have until 23 September to do so. Fines apply if you don’t return it in time.

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