Web accessibility underpins Australia’s Digital Transformation Office

Friday, 10 April 2015 15:33pm

Web accessibility will play a crucial role in future design and delivery of online government services, according to the alpha website of the federal government’s forthcoming Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

Tree representing networks and structure of the Internet

The office, which is due to launch on 1 July 2015, is tasked with not only improving the quality of government services, but making sure that they are digital by default and that they can be accessed by everyone in the community.

A key part of this new approach is the development of new ‘alpha’ digital design standards, which have just been announced.

The Digital Service Standard—based on the UK government’s Digital by Default Service Standard—encompasses 16 criteria that all digital services must meet, and which are intended to make services simpler, faster and easier to use.

As discussed in the How to apply the Standard section of the DTO’s site, web accessibility will factor into a number of these service standard criteria:

Digital Service Standard as NTS successor?

The announcement is an important step forward in progressing web accessibility and access to government information and services online.

While there has been no formal announcement of a successor policy to the National Transition Strategy (NTS)—the policy requiring government websites to be AA compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 by the end of 2014—there are signs that the Digital Service Standard covers very similar ground.

For example, the DTO explicitly states that “digital information as a service, including websites and publications” is covered by the Digital Service Standard:

“All information that is the responsibility of, or is partly owned and/or funded by, a government department or agency is subject to the Digital Service Standard. If the information is completely new then, from June 2015, it must meet the Standard before it can go live. If the information is already published it will need to be updated to follow the Standard. Agencies must provide a plan outlining how they will adopt the Standard for their information service by September 2015.”

The DTO also places emphasis on making online government transactions accessible, stating that all new services and all existing high volume Australian Government services (greater than 50,000 transactions each year, such as tax returns) must adopt the Digital Service Standard.

According to the DTO, if a service is already operating, then agency responsible will need to provide a transition plan, by September 2015, on how it will adopt the Digital Service Standard.

In a blog post on the digital design standards, the DTO’s Jacqui van Teulingen wrote that the standard would also be supported by a Digital Service Design Guide, developed with agencies’ input, to provide practical guidance to agencies on how to meet the standard.

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