The peak body representing local councils in the Australian state of Victoria partners with Media Access Australia to deliver upskilling, training and best practice on digital accessibility enabling its members to boost inclusion and community engagement.
About the Municipal Association of Victoria
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is the legislated peak body for Victoria’s 79 councils. Formed in 1879, the organisation has a long and proud tradition of supporting councils and councillors.
As a peak body for local government in the state of Victoria, MAV is tasked with advocating local government interests, building the capacity of councils, facilitating effective networks, initiating policy development and advice, supporting councillors and promoting the role of local government.
As part of fulfilling its mandate, MAV must lead the way in identifying skills and capability gaps among member organisations, as well as informing members of new requirements and compliance issues. As a member-based organisation, it also needs to show and deliver value to its membership and maintain its position as a thought leader and source of expertise and best practice.
One particularly pressing compliance issue for the MAV’s members, and an area in which a clear skill and knowledge gap existed, is the councils’ ability to meet the legislative requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. The Australian Human Rights Commission, which enforces the act, has advised that all websites should be compliant to Level AA of the global web accessibility standard, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
WCAG 2.0 is the cornerstone of web accessibility—which itself is a pillar of broader digital accessibility—and aims to ensure that websites, apps, online documents and services are accessible to the widest range of people possible, including people with a disability, those with varying education levels, those who speak English as a second language, as well as older members of the community.
As MAV Online Communications Coordinator Alvin Bautista explains, the challenge in helping councils meet this standard is in the different stages individual councils are at regarding the rollout of their web accessibility plans, resourcing and knowledge among members.
“When I began at the MAV in 2013 we had a very mixed bag regarding how far along councils were in their web accessibility plans. Some councils already had processes in place, while others had limited knowledge of the requirements,” he says.
“The MAV participates in a Web Network Forum where online communications professionals in the local government sector can discuss topical issues. Prior to supplying training to our members, there wasn’t a week that went by that didn’t relate to web accessibility and what we needed to do to comply with legislative requirements.”
Based on this, the MAV recognised the need to update the sector, and help address skill and knowledge gaps across many councils regardless of size and online communication capacity.
“There was an opportunity for us to provide guidance and resources to all councils— especially smaller councils with more limited resources—so the MAV facilitated training for the sector.”
MAV partners with Media Access Australia
With the need for accessibility training services clear, the MAV began testing the market for suppliers, but encountered a problem.
“While there are other providers of accessibility training services in the market, we found that no providers other than Media Access Australia were aggregating training services in a way that they could be delivered to all councils, regardless of their size,” Mr Bautista explains.
“For example, the bigger councils might independently get in contact with a web accessibility provider, but the downside of that is that training gets delivered in a silo and the rest of the sector misses out on the training.”
With this in mind, the MAV and Media Access Australia collaborated to create a training and professional development solution that would meet the needs of the sector while also being financially viable.
As part of this collaboration, MAV and Media Access Australia also worked together to create highly tailored content that addressed specific compliance issues for local councils.
“We identified the need to create programs to provide staff training for things such as making documents accessible, assessing websites so that councils could continue to ensure they were accessible, and also make their social media accessible,” Mr Bautista says.
“That led to two separate courses being delivered—one on creating accessible documents and one on accessible online content, including web pages, social media and e-newsletters.”
Media Access Australia and MAV: Delivering value
Through partnering with Media Access Australia, the MAV has been able to provide councils with upskilling and expert assistance, Mr Bautista says. In addition, the collaboration has meant that it’s also been better able to meet requirements unique to public sector organisations.
“Unlike with private sector organisations, the public doesn’t have a choice on which council they choose to deal with online,” he explains. “You can’t just go to another council’s website and get information about your particular rates, rubbish collection times and other council services. Residents can only refer to their own council’s website so web accessibility is a must.
“Councils must be seen to be inclusive—they can’t just cater to people without special needs or who don’t require additional assistance. They must cater to their entire community and that includes people with disabilities and older people with changing abilities.”
“A great part of web accessibility is that it caters to a council’s entire audience,” Mr Bautista says. “Not all areas of Victoria have access to fast internet connections, so the need to provide transcripts to complement videos not only benefits people with hearing or visual impairments, but also people living in remote areas.”
Targeted learning and real knowledge transfer
Mr Bautista says that additional proof of the value of partnering with Media Access Australia can be seen in the feedback of council staff who have undertaken the tailored training.
“Feedback from our councils has been positive with 86 per cent of attendees agreeing that they felt confident that they could apply the knowledge they gained from the accessibility workshop into their work environment,” he says.
“What was also good to see from the MAV’s perspective was that all participants surveyed felt the workshop was value for money, which means we were right on target for delivering a program that met the needs of the sector.”
Mr Bautista says that what’s also positive is that workshop attendees were also more interested in pursuing further education and upskilling in digital accessibility. This includes Media Access Australia offerings including the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility, auditing websites and mobile apps for WCAG 2.0 compliance, and undertaking Digital Accessibility Maturity Assessments. Mr Bautista also said that another emerging area to investigate involved procurement of web or software services. This would assist councils to better screen suppliers based on their ability to deliver accessible websites and also evaluate the finished product.
About Media Access Australia
Media Access Australia, Australia’s only independent not-for-profit organisation devoted to increasing access to media for people with a disability, works with public—and private—sector organisations to improve their digital accessibility.
Through its digital accessibility services, Media Access Australia supplies professional services around improving the accessibility of online documents, website accessibility, organisation-wide accessibility strategy as well as professional development in accessibility.
Media Access Australia also helps increase inclusion through its thought leadership and research in important areas such as social media accessibility, service provision for people with disabilities and cloud computing and mobile accessibility.
If you’re part of an organisation looking to create greater digital inclusion, contact Media Access Australia by calling (02) 9212 6242 or by completing the enquiry form on our Contact page for more information.