Transform 16: Transforming Accessibility

When we held our inaugural Transform conference in Canberra last year from 18-19 May, we didn’t realise it would coincide with Global Accessibility Awareness Day on 19 May. Once we knew, we decided to organise a small event to celebrate.

There is, of course, a great crossover and overlap between the concepts of government digital service delivery transformation and digital accessibility. The lack of accessibility to people with particular access needs in much of how government makes information available to citizens is precisely the reason a transformation is needed.

One of our international keynote Transform speakers, Dana Chisnell, as well as driving change as a Design Researcher (then) at the US Digital Service, had also much experience in analysing and advocating for accessibility for people with disabilities to public facilities such as voting at elections, and agreed to speak.

That kicked off an evening that also featured Andrew Arch, a long-time Australian accessibility advocate working within Government and more recently a key recruit for the (then) Digital Transformation Office, as well as local disability and accessibility advocates.

Here’s how Ricky Onsman and Jacinta Cali reported on it for Wrap magazine.

Transforming Accessibility

Celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day

This first Transform conference, which focused on how governments can improve the way they provide online services to all citizens, happened to share its May 19 date with Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

So that’s several hundred designers, front end developers, information architects, user experience specialists, content producers and project managers with a focus on digital government information services coming together from around the country on just the day nominated to draw worldwide attention to web accessibility for people with disabilities.

In late 2011, US developer Joe Devon floated the idea of day on which web developers across the globe would try to raise awareness and knowhow on making websites accessible. Among other accessibility professionals who expressed support, Jennison Asuncion set to work with Joe to make GAAD a reality.

Since 2012, events have been held around the world that have changed the way devs and designers think and act with regard to accessibility, and profiling the many efforts made to make the web
accessible to people with disabilities. Many events aim to put accessibility into context for the people who build the web, like trying to use websites blindfolded or without a mouse.

In Australia, A11y Bytes has been organising GAAD events first in Sydney, then adding Melbourne and Perth in subsequent years. These have taken the form of public meetups with short talks on accessibility topics, and have definitely helped web professionals rethink their approach to accessibility.

For the last few years, the date for GAAD has been set as the third Thursday in May. In 2016, that was 19 May.

The day of the Transform conference itself was already packed with activity, and the evening would see many people heading home and others attending organised post-conference events. But
the day before the conference was the day on which US usability experts Dana Chisnell and Jared Spool held their Canberra workshop Deconstructing Delight, a Transform event held at the same venue.

The Web Directions team recruited the support of the A11y Bytes folks and members of the Digital Transformation Office involved with the conference (who include, rightly, some of the best web accessibility talent in this country) to co-present Transforming Accessibility, “an opportunity to connect with the broader accessibility and digital communities in Canberra, in honour of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.”

It was a good turnout for a chilly Canberra evening, with local disability activists and community representatives mixing with accessibility specialists and buzzy and excited workshop attendees.

Excellent snacks and drinks helped warm the atmosphere in the former Members Bar and Lounge of Old Parliament House, as Web Directions founder John Allsopp welcomed everyone and introduced four speakers.

Transform 16: Transforming Accessibility

While Dana Chisnell was at Transform in her role as Design Researcher at the US Digital Service, talking about the transformation of online government services underway in America, and was co-delivering the workshop with Jared (possibly the best credentialled and most polished user experience tag team ever), her professional history also goes back to some extremely significant research into the needs of people with age-related impairments and disabilities that went on to inform the development of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Content Guidelines. A11y cred ++

Dana spoke eloquently and warmly about an understanding of accessibility that is becoming increasingly powerful: that it’s not about adding things on to compensate for inaccessibility – it’s about not building in the obstacles to access in the first place and, where those obstacles have been built in, removing them. This applies as much to the relatively young world of the web as it does to the physical world of bricks and mortar. They are both built environments that should not – and do not need to – exclude people with specific access needs.

A focus of Dana’s professional experience (and personal ongoing interest) is the usability of the electoral experience and ensuring that it allows for the participation of all citizens. Her story about personally supporting the participation of people as voters who had always assumed they were excluded from this most basic of citizens’ rights was moving and inspiring, not least for the simplicity of the solution – make it easy for everyone.

Transform 16: Transforming Accessibility

Dr Andrew Arch is an Australian pioneer of web accessibility, having built Vision Australia’s accessibility training services in the early 2000s, then working in France and the UK with the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, and returning here to work with the Australian Government Information Management Office on making government websites accessible through the National Transition Strategy. He is now Lead, Accessibility, Diversity, Assisted Digital for the game-changing Digital Transformation Office.

Andrew spoke of Australia’s strong track record of involvement in web accessibility initiatives over the years, how accessibility intersects with the information needs of so many people in the
community and how the DTO is working to make government information online more accessible to the whole community, including people who have disabilities.

Australia is part of a global movement that acknowledges government information services have become increasingly complex, and need to be made more accessible. Andrew affirmed that there is much to be done in this area but also that progress is being made, with the critical factor of awareness being assisted by events like GAAD.

Transform 16: Transforming Accessibility

Robert Altamore is Executive Officer of People with Disabilities ACT, the peak disability advocacy body in the territory.

His personal experience of disability, his years of involvement with Blind Citizens Australia and his participation in key advocacy initiatives in Australia have left him well placed to observe and comment on both the positive steps that have been taken and the need for much more to be done.

The web represents a brave new world of information sharing, and it is critical that everything is done to ensure that people with disabilities are not only not excluded from it, but are actively empowered by it.

Sue Salthouse was until 2012 President of Women with Disabilities Australia, the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia.

She continues to be an active advocate for women’s rights and the rights of people with disability, and was made Canberra Citizen of the Year in 2015.

Like Robert, Sue drew attention to the expected positive impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but reminded us all that there is much work yet to be done before we see the full potential of the NDIS for changing the lives of people with disability.

Sue also drew attention to the terrible statistics around violence toward women that are often compounded for women with disabilities.

The sum effect of the four speakers was to acknowledge that the web has enormous potential to benefit people with disabilities, but that will only happen if we make sure the web is accessible, particularly in the areas of government services and information so critical for people who require support.

It was an inspiring, thought-provoking evening that left the web professionals present with a clearer awareness of what they have the potential to achieve through an accessible web.

We asked Jacinta Cali, Director of Website Projects for digital agency Internetrix, what she thought of the evening.

Transform 16: Jacinta Cali

GAAD is so important

Websites, software and mobile apps all have plenty in common: they want to be inclusive, easy to use and inviting. Still, so many of us are releasing new sites into the market with little or no care
for digital accessibility. Not everyone who shapes the web knows just how important accessibility is and I believe it’s simply due to lack of awareness.

Thankfully, we have Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) which is an important event aimed at doing just that – raising awareness.

On the eve of the first ever Transform conference in Canberra, I attended Transforming Accessibility which celebrated GAAD. GAAD aims to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility. At Transforming Accessibility, we heard from inspirational speakers who educated us about what is at stake when we talk about accessibility.

What I found so great was just how many people there were passionate about creating an inclusive web. What I learned was everyone has a need and a basic right to access the sites we create.

Visitors to a website, including those with disabilities, can become excluded from its content in different ways that take just a little thought to remedy. As digital creators, we are responsible for delivering an accessible experience to all users.

In 2016, awareness of accessibility in tech is increasing, but not everyone knows how to start or where to find knowledge on accessibility. GAAD aims to provide people in digital with the know-how for creating accessible sites and to educate related communities that influence technology.

As digital creators there are some easy ways we can make sites more accessible. Here’s a few things you can do to make your sites better:

Don’t disable zoom. Pixel perfect is so 2004. Ultimately it’s really bad for your visitors. Check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 section 1.4.4.

Avoid bitmapped captcha images. Opt for non-interactive mechanisms to check for spam or other invalid content.

Make downloadable files accessible. The files you embed on your website also need to be WCAG 2.0 compliant.

Use focus styles. If you find focus {outline: none;} somewhere in your style sheet then remove it.

Build a content style that removes jargon, using clear and simple language.

Have meaningful Alternative (Alt) Text. Not too short, not a duplicate of the title and not too long (about 8 – 10 words is good).

Making these changes gives a wider spread of the community, such as those with disabilities and seniors, the ability to join in with digital life. This is social inclusion in action.

GAAD raises awareness for digital shapers to produce sites that are more usable for a wider audience, meeting compliance standards, and improving the quality of life for users so that the hard things in life are a bit easier.

For more information on how to make your site accessible check out or get in touch with A11Y Bytes.



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