Immigration talks NTS: Accessibility is a process of improvement

There’s no ‘quick fix’ where accessibility is concerned. There are processes to be changed and challenges aplenty. Whilst government agencies are still required to meet the National Transition Strategy (NTS) Level AA deadline by the end of 2014, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) recognises accessibility will be part of a Continuous Improvement Framework. Read more about this position in AGIMO tells: NTS, WCAG 2.0 and beyond.

We’ve already seen a number of agencies achieve remarkable improvements in the accessibility of their websites and web applications. We’ve helped others pave the way towards improved accessibility by demonstrating their commitment with an Accessibility Implementation/Action Plan. So far this year we’ve seen record numbers of people attend our training workshops and have already delivered in-house training to 12 government departments. There’s work to be done, but the wheels are definitely in motion.

We caught up with Matt Yannopoulos, Chief Information Officer, Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), to find out what their approach has been to the NTS and the challenges they’ve faced along the way.

Digital Access: What has been the process that the Department has implemented for addressing accessibility conformance under the NTS?

DIBP:

The Department has written a plan which outlines all of the activities required to successfully implement the NTS and incorporate accessibility as a ‘business-as-usual’ activity by 2015 and beyond. The plan encourages regular testing and integrating accessibility standards into our ICT procurement processes amongst other activities.

In 2014, our focus will be primarily on improving education and awareness of accessibility and what it means for all staff. We’ve updated our intranet pages, are launching quick reference cards and running training sessions for staff.

We anticipate that through education and training, we will see a decrease in the number of accessibility defects per system as content authors, designers and developers become more familiar with WCAG 2.0.

Additionally, we have catalogued all departmental web systems in a Web Accessibility Register which allows us to keep track of conformance levels and accessibility reports alongside business details, and keep in regular contact with our internal system owners to discuss progress."

Digital Access: What have been the Department’s main challenges?

DIBP:

The main challenge for the Department has been the level of awareness and understanding of accessibility. Education has become a focus both on a broad departmental scale, as well as targeted training for those involved in the creation of web systems and content.

Low levels of accessibility awareness impact all stages of the system development lifecycle, from purchase to development or upgrade, and in maintenance. Where we can influence those stages to properly consider accessibility requirements and make improvements, we will see the benefits in more accessible and usable web systems.

However, we are encouraged to see the ICT environment changing. Five years ago web accessibility was a highly specialised niche subject area with very few staff having accessibility responsibilities. Today, we see graduating ICT students whom have studied web accessibility and WCAG 2.0 specifically, through their computer science or IT related degrees and certificates. More external training sessions are available and an increasing number of people work within the industry. We are confident that as skill levels increase our web will become a more accessible place for all people."

Digital Access: Is the Department aware or concerned of the repercussions of not complying come December 2014?  

DIBP:

The Department of Finance and Deregulation set an ambitious schedule for conformance to WCAG 2.0 Level AA, which government agencies supported prior to the standards endorsement in 2010. Finance, too, recognised in its recent publication of the National Transition Strategy 2012 Progress Report that full conformance by December 2014 by all agencies was unlikely. Regardless, they expect progress and improvement, and we are very confident we can demonstrate major improvements across our systems and processes including demonstration of WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance for a number of our most important web systems.

The Department faces a difficult task, but we are committed to improving the accessibility of our web systems and will continue to work to reach conformance over time."

Share your approach

Share your organisation’s approach to the NTS or experiences with accessibility implementation – what worked, what didn’t, what further support is needed. Contact us – your insights could help others improve their accessibility processes. 

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