Political websites offer a lesson in access

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Friday, 17 June 2016 11:19am

Election campaigns… The drudgery of all those politicians, political parties and media outlets all vying for your attention. Trying to get the latest news, funding promise, budget saving, tax cut, baby kissing, high-visibility vest, hard-hat-wearing politician video to us in real time. Well some of us…

A hand clicking a computer mouse with a keyboard and PC in the background

For the 1 in 5 Australians with a disability, including the 1 in 6 affected by hearing loss, the 357,000 who are blind or have low vision, the more than 2 million who have dyslexia, and those with a cognitive impairment or who have English as a second language, information published on websites, online videos and social media news grabs is more difficult to comprehend. A large portion of the population may be misunderstanding important information, meaning they cannot make an informed voting decision.

Natalie Collins, Deputy CEO at Media Access Australia, says, “If political parties and media outlets want to maximise engagement with voters, they need to make their websites, online videos and social media updates accessible. In this day and age, where social media and the 30-second news grab is how many consume the latest news, it makes sense that this content be accessible to everyone, regardless of impairment or disability.”

Dr Scott Hollier, Director of Digital Accessibility with Media Access Australia, completed a review of the major political party websites during the previous federal election and found them to be woefully inaccessible. Three years later Hollier has completed a follow up, Federal election 2016 – Is your vote accessible yet? [link is external] and found that while there have been some improvements with the ABC’s Vote Compass, and all the political parties are now providing captions (although sometimes not of the best quality), all the parties could make significant improvements that would help them to reach more voters.

While Hollier’s report focused on political websites, it offers lessons for all web developers in making their sites accessible.

So what does website accessibility mean? Essentially it is about making content distributed on websites and digital channels accessible to everyone regardless of their ability, age or culture, or the technology they are using. Commonly, inaccessible content affects people with low vision because their assistive technology, known as a screen reader, is unable to fully convert the content to speech.

Common issues

Examples of common issues include:

  • No quality captions on videos
  • No transcripts to accompany videos
  • Images that include text, meaning screen readers cannot convert that text to speech
  • Poor colour contrast with text on light backgrounds or on top of images

What are the repercussions if content is not accessible? Natalie says there is a risk if a person with a disability feels they have been discriminated against and makes a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). An example of this was a recent complaint made against Prime Minister and former Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, regarding the quality of the captions, or lack of them, on videos on government websites.

5 steps to making content accessible

There are some simple steps that political parties, media outlets and indeed all website owners can take to make content accessible for everyone.

  1. Put quality captions on videos.
  2. Add transcripts for videos.
  3. Make sure you include descriptive alternative text for images and don’t use images of text.
  4. Check colour contrast of text on images, so your text stands out.
  5. Make sure your website is keyboard accessible and can be Tabbed through in a logical order.

Contact the Digital Accessibility Services team at Media Access Australia if you need help making your website, documents or digital communications accessible.

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