Penrith City Council turned to Media Access Australia and digital accessibility to help deliver on its vision for greater community inclusion.
About Penrith City Council
Located in western Sydney, Penrith City Council is an organisation of about 900 staff serving a local government area (LGA) of about 190,000 residents. The LGA consists of a diverse and growing group of younger and older residents, those from non-English-speaking backgrounds—including refugee communities—and indigenous groups.
Drivers for change
Inclusion and access
Greater inclusion has been a priority at the Council for some time, going back to 2008 when the organisation created its ‘Penrith Inclusion Plan—People with a disability 2009-13’. The plan seeks to provide a universally accessible environment and socially inclusive community. A major element in realising this vision was the need to improve access to information online. This includes everything from Council business papers and reports, to forms, media and community communications.
“It became clear to us that one of the key ways that a lot of people with disabilities were accessing information, as well as Council services, was increasingly through web-based content,” Joe Ibbitson, community programs coordinator, Penrith City Council, says of the Council’s need for change.
“It was also clear that we needed to provide information in a number of alternate formats. We discovered that our website was not delivering accessible content so there was a need to further investigate what was going on, and what we needed to do to remedy that.”
Mr Ibbitson says that the Council also recognised the need for improved digital accessibility due to the need to meet compliance requirements—such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the National Transition Strategy. However, a genuine desire for greater community inclusion was an even greater motivator for change.
“Compliance issues underpin the move to greater digital accessibility, but the Council itself really wants to make Penrith more inclusive and accessible for everyone—and that includes our online services and the Council,” Mr Ibbitson explains. “We really want to do it—not because we are required to do it but because there is a changing culture within the Council.”
Why Media Access Australia?
Realising the need to source external expertise on web accessibility and accessible documents, Penrith City Council directly approached Media Access Australia’s dedicated digital accessibility services for guidance.
“Media Access Australia was well known to us already as a major organisation in Australia doing work around digital accessibility,” Mr Ibbitson says. “They are involved with the global web accessibility standards body, the W3C, so were the obvious organisation to invite to consult with us and help develop a plan for to meet our inclusion and access goals.”
Media Access Australia developed an action plan that identified a wide range of steps the Council could take to improve access to information, documents and other content on the Council’s website.
“The Action Plan helped us look at how we could improve the situation—from cost-effective measures that we could take immediately to address many of the access problems, through to very specific technical issues that we could resolve over the longer term,” Mr Ibbitson says.
To help the Council immediately address its accessible information needs, Media Access Australia provided targeted, on-site training on accessible documents, specifically delivered in a ‘train-the-trainer’ format. This kind of training empowered attendees to take the knowledge back to the office, act as subject matter experts and educate other employees on how to create accessible content irrespective of whether the information was destined for the web or a word document.
Penrith City Council has benefited from the clarity provided by an external audit to accurately and honestly gauge where the organisation is in its journey toward access and inclusion for the whole community.
“One of the issues identified was that the content management platform we were using did not allow for the production of accessible website content,” Mr Ibbitson explains. “We have brought in external contractors to rebuild the site, but a key stipulation is that we now require the new site to be compliant with the global standard, the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. When the new site is completed we will have a website which is far more compliant than the old one.”
Penrith City Council has also benefited from the accessibility training provided by Media Access Australia because it now has the skills and flexibility to deliver accessibility expertise throughout the organisation.
“Media Access Australia ran the first session training up key staff, which then allowed our internal learning and development people to develop a workbook for creating accessible content,” Mr Ibbitson says.
“With that workbook and expertise from MAA we are now running accessible content workshops internally, meaning we can better disseminate information and skills throughout the organisation. It is also a very cost-effective way of providing training to a large number of staff. It also ensures that the information and learning remains with the organisation due to the adoption of a new standard in content creation.”
With differing levels of awareness in the organisation about the need for digital accessibility, having the ability to train different parts of the Council when and where needed was also beneficial.
“There are still a lot of people in the organisation who don’t know what we are talking about when we bring up web accessibility,” Mr Ibbitson says. “At one level we are still raising awareness about accessibility—which the training can help us with—and on another level we have people who are highly aware and are changing their behaviour and structuring their documents so that they are accessible—which is also thanks to the training.”
The Council is also now integrating accessible documents and content creation into its business processes. In particular, the Council’s media and communication team is now responsible for ensuring that a greater number of external documents are accessible, and additional staff are responsible for ensuring internal documents are also accessible.
Looking to the future, Mr Ibbitson says the Council is well placed to address new compliance requirements under the recently legislated Disability Inclusion Act 2014, which requires that councils in NSW create and then lodge Disability Inclusion Plans with the Minister for Family and Community Services.
“While we’re still waiting for the guidelines of that new Act to come out I anticipate that accessible documents and information will be a requirement,” he says. “With the audit, training and expertise provided by Media Access Australia we are well placed to address that requirement as well as fulfil our vision to make Penrith a more inclusive and accessible place to live.”