Working with Media Access Australia (World Wide Web Consortium – W3C – Member) the University of South Australia has developed Australia’s only university-accredited web accessibility certificate for web professionals to help address the digital divide that is preventing those with a disability from accessing the full potential of the internet.
Technology can connect us all, introduce us to new experiences and make basic tasks just plain easier. Often all you need is a pointer in the right direction to get the most from the internet and your devices, but not everyone is equal across the World Wide Web despite its truly global presence.
Across the world millions of people have disabilities that affect their use of the web and currently most sites and software have accessibility barriers that make it difficult or impossible for them to use the Web.
Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of South Australia Business School and a Senior Researcher at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, Dr Elizabeth Hemphill, researches customer focussed service provision and regional recruitment for people with a disability and says inclusion is not happening fast enough.
“The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more so to ensure equal access and equal opportunity for all, the Web needs to be accessible,” Dr Hemphill says.
“In 2015 The Australian Journal of Social Issues included contributions from a range of academics questioning Australia’s progress towards social inclusion on the basis of the continued exclusion of population cohorts from participating in social, economic and employment activities.
“Some of our research that will be published later this year in the same journal similarly shows that although attitudes are becoming more positive, a great deal more is required to increase opportunities for people with disability.
“A key point to make is that much is yet to be done for Australia to move towards ‘inclusion’ of people with disabilities.”
W3C Advisory Committee Representative and Media Access Australia Director of Digital Accessibility, Dr Scott Hollier, says accessible content has a much wider benefit beyond people with a disability, so it is important for every organisation to make it a key pillar of their communication strategy. He’s also the senior lecturer of a course that is focussed on just that.
The six-week online Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility teaches Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and a range of the latest accessibility techniques in a straightforward, practical and accredited way.
“The Certificate ensures key players within an organisation or department are upskilled in accessibility compliance and is also useful for solo specialists who want a deeper understanding of the issues and the practical fixes around web and digital accessibility,” Dr Hollier says.
Web designers, developers, content writers, project managers, communications staff, instructional designers, software programmers, and IT engineers are just a few of the positions that need to integrate web accessibility thinking into their daily work.
“While web accessibility is often considered in the context of the technology supporting a website, it is also the content techniques employed by content authors that can ‘make or break’ a website’s accessibility,” Dr Hollier says.
“By making all web content accessible, businesses and organisations can reach the broadest possible audience and users of assistive technologies, such as people with a disability, can access web content or documents without issue.
“Baby boomers and people aged over 65 are likely to experience early onset disabilities such as vision and hearing loss, dexterity issues and cognitive issues including dementia but as big adopters of technology making content accessible to them is essential.
“Ensuring content is easy to read and has quality captions on videos also ensures web content is more accessible for people where English is their second language.
“This is an important issue because an inaccessible website means organisations are not connecting with up to 20 per cent of the population and they are at risk of legal action or a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.”
International Software Testing company Planit’s Senior Test Analyst, Herin Hentry, knows accessibility is a critical element of all digital communication.
“Planit provides testing services around functionality, performance, security, compatibility and accessibility,” Ms Hentry says.
“Making a website accessible means we are giving a better user experience to all users but I also see accessibility as a way of future proofing and ensuring social responsibility in this generation.
“Accessibility is important for this generation to be able to relate to and connect with the previous and next generations.
“Games, news, social media, training, documents, everything that we could think of needs to be made accessible to make this connection possible.
“When an organisation’s website is not accessible, it further excludes people with disabilities from society but when an organisation’s website is accessible, it empowers them to participate in society.
“Providing an accessible website is one way an organisation can demonstrate that it strives to meet the access needs of a diverse society.
“I see myself as a promoter of accessibility. I love training people on accessibility now and providing developers and business people accessibility advice.”
The next course runs from Monday 2 May to Friday 10 June 2016 with registrations closing on Tuesday 26 April 2016. The cost is AU$2,400 (excluding GST). A short highlights video outlines what the course covers. Individuals can enrol in the Professional Certificate in Web Accessibility. For group bookings contact Media Access Australia directly.
Katrina McLachlan is Course Coordinator/Lecturer – School of Communication, International Studies and Languages, at the University of South Australia.