Web accessibility vital to elections

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Thursday, 10 July 2014 11:55am

Media Access Australia’s resident web accessibility expert, Dr Scott Hollier, has warned that a lack of accessible websites could lead to voters with disabilities potentially miscasting their votes at the next federal or state election.

Speaking ahead of his presentation on disability and digital divides, to be given at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) conference in Melbourne, Dr Hollier said that a lack of web accessibility could have profound effects on society.

“If you look at the last federal election as a case study, a voter with a disability would have had a very difficult time in gaining information to guide their votes based on the lack of accessibility of the websites of the major parties,” he said.

“A lot of those issues remain, and on top of that, the website of the Australian Electoral Commission also has web accessibility issues.”

Further, Dr Hollier added that other resources for voters, such as the ABC’s popular Vote Compass tool, which was supposed to help people gain information on how their political views mapped with the different parties, also had web access issues.

“Those issues meant that it was possible for people with disabilities to put in the wrong information and have a misunderstanding of how your political views are aligned, which could lead to an incorrect vote based on your actual preferences,” he said.

“As it stands, people who have a disability are really going to struggle to make an informed decision about our political system if they rely on online information to make a decision.”

Dr Hollier added that when the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ finding that 18.5 per cent of Australians have a disability was taken into account, potentially hundreds of thousands of voters could be affected by a lack of web accessibility.

Turning to potential solutions to the issue, Dr Hollier said that thanks to developments in cloud computing it was now possible for a personalised set of web access preferences to be available anywhere a voter travelled on the internet.

“You could go into a polling station and have an interface which is accessible to your needs through your profile stored in the cloud — being recognised and automatically formatting the screen to your set of preferences,” he said.

“That would allow voters to access the information they needed and allow them to cast their vote the way they intend, and so bypass any of these access issues.”

Dr Hollier said the issue of accessible voting would be detailed in a paper co-authored with Dr Justin Brown from Edith Cowan University — Hollier and Brown (2014), ‘Web Accessibility Implications and Responsibilities: An Australian Election Case Study’ — while potential remedies would be detailed in a forthcoming cloud white paper.

The ANZCA conference, which is being run at Swinburne University’s Hawthorn campus from 9-11 July, tackles a diverse range of issues in the media and communication space, including issues around disability and media access.

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