Transcript of Dr Scott Hollier's review into the accessibility of the online Census

Wednesday, 31 August 2016 10:01am

Introduction

You're listening to a podcast from Media Access Australia. Inclusion through technology.

Philip

I’m speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, Media Access Australia’s Specialist Advisor, Digital Accessibility. Today’s focus is on his recent accessibility review of the 9 August Census that Scott conducted before, during and after that fateful night. So, Scott, as we all know, the 2016 Census was a total debacle from go to whoa but did it pass or fail in terms of accessibility in its online form?

Scott

Well, that’s a great question and it’s been interesting. I mean, like many Australians, I had the same experience on the Tuesday night and, being based in Western Australia, the site has already collapsed by the time my family and I tried, so, yes, like many Australians I had several hours of spinning and being unable to get onto the site. But what was interesting, when we finally did get to do the Census on the Thursday, we found that one of the really good stories to come out of it, and a happy thing for the ABS, is that the Census form was actually quite accessible and quite compliant and effective with screen readers, which was a really happy and surprising thing to discover.

Philip

Fantastic, so tell me, Scott, the online option was accessible. What were the main things that it got right?

Scott

Well, it really is a good news story here for the ABS and the things it got right is that the form was reasonably clear and well laid out. It could be navigated quite comfortably with the screen reader. I found that the labelling on the form was quite effective, so it was quite effective in getting the screen reader to explain things and the options, and broadly speaking it was a really pleasant surprise. It was quite clear that the Australian Bureau of Statistics had spent a fair bit of time in making it accessible, which is a great news story.

Philip

Do you think the accessibility of the online form could have been improved? If so, in what ways?

Scott

The form could have been improved a little bit. There are a few things around buttons. One of the things we did when we were looking at the Census is we put the call out to the students currently undertaking the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility to ask their views. And broadly speaking, as we were saying before, it was quite accessible but there was still a bit of room for improvement and certainly the location of some of the buttons and some useability issues could have been addressed. But, for the most part, it was surprisingly accessible. One of the things that’s really been lost in the discussion around how badly the Census went for most Australians is the fact that, yes, there is actually a good news story here to be told, the whole country. There’s some really exciting news that a lot of effort was put in quite clearly to try and make the form accessible.

Philip

That’s true, so 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?

Scott

It wasn’t widely known and it actually took myself and quite a number of accessibility specialists by surprise to discover that so much effort was put in. And the thing that I worry most about now is that, in the shadow of Hash Census Fail, we often read about the discussion and the debate being more about who’s to blame, how bad the Census is online and whether or not there should ever be another online census. And from my perspective I would actually argue that it’s absolutely imperative to make sure that the online version stays because 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 and the discussion is being moved much more into whether or not we should have online concerns me. I hope that the discussion changes to be more about how can we make sure that people can appreciate the good work of the ABS in the next round of the Census in 2021. There’s a great potential there to ensure that people with disabilities do get access to the Census. So from my point of view, the argument isn’t about whether or not we should have an online census but just making sure that people with disabilities are able to, and like for all Australians make sure the online version works.

Philip

Absolutely, so were there any specific elements of the survey online that were specifically created for people with a version impairment? Okay, yes, you were saying that your screen reader was able to work well on the site. What about those with a hearing impairment or cognitive disability?

Scott

I didn’t notice anything specific for other disability groups and, to be honest, even from a vision perspective, whilst things were quite well labelled, I didn’t notice any specific additional features for vision impairment. But what was quite clear is that the standards were fairly compliant. So what it looks like the ABS did is they did adopt the International Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2 or WCAG 2, as we call it, web standards, and by doing so it did accommodate a wide variety of disabilities. So whilst it’s not perfect, it is fair to say that for most people with disabilities using the technology that they prefer they would have been able to complete the Census if, like most Australians, they could have actually got online. I think the message for the ABS in the next round is don’t scrap the online version. Don’t go back to paper because that’s quite inaccessible for a lot of people but do make sure that the online Census is both accessible, which it seems like they’re able to achieve, and available, ultimately.

Philip

And also more widely known.

Scott

Absolutely, and, look, I put a call out to the ABS that when 2021 does swing around that they do let people with disabilities know because it’s quite likely in the last census that people did still assume they needed assistance to complete it online, not realising that it was quite accessible. So an information campaign around that would be a great thing.

Philip

Well, only time will tell. Thanks so much for your time today, Scott.

Scott

Thank you.

Conclusion

This podcast was presented by Media Access dot org dot au.

Go back to the 'Online Census accessibility review - Pass or Fail' story


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