Philip: I’m speaking with Dr Scott Hollier, the Digital Accessibility Director for Media Access Australia, and author of an investigation into the state of accessibility of websites related to the last federal election in 2013. Well, he’s done it again and has put the major parties, along with the Australian Electoral Commission and the ABC’s Vote Compass, under the accessibility spotlight. Scott, what is the state of play in terms of digital access this time around?
Scott: Well it’s been interesting, Philip. There has been progress made. We did have a look at a number of websites involved in the vote process. So we had a look at the Australian Electoral Commission’s website to see if people could actually check their enrolment. We looked at the major political sites and we also looked at ABC Vote Compass and happily there has been some progress. There’s still issues in terms of being able to check whether you’re enrolled and there’s certainly still issues with the political websites but where improvements have been made is that most videos do seem to have captions, which is a great step forward. And also the Vote Compass website is greatly improved in terms of its access.
Philip: Well that’s good to hear. What are the main issues facing those with a disability in navigating around the four political websites that you scrutinised?
Scott: Issues come down to three real key things and the first one is the lack of alternative text. We see quite clearly, especially when we’re looking at the ALP website, the Liberal Party website and the National Party, but there does seem to be a lot of images that are lacking alternative text. And also a lot of linked images that are lacking alternative text, so that’s certainly a really big key issue.
The second issue relates across all the parties, including the Greens site as well, and that is colour contrast. The Greens website in particular has a lot of movement and flashing and colours going on which can make it very tricky for people with a colour vision impairment, and certainly all the websites could do with improvement on that score.
And the third issue, which really was consistent across the different websites, is around linked purposes. Relates to using links such as ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ and having links described that way is very difficult for people who are using screen readers because when they get to those links they don’t really know what ‘click here’ means. So it’s really important that those links have a more descriptive meaning, such as ‘for more information go to the article on our policies’, or something much more detailed. So those are really a few of those key that are common across all those four political party websites.
Philip: Okay.And that last one was basically making links intuitively named, right? So that they mean something by themselves.
Scott: Yeah, absolutely.
Philip: Fantastic. You mentioned the ABC’s Vote Compass before.It’s really good news that the creator, and licensee of this online application, sought you out after your 2013 report and then incorporated your feedback. Is there still work to be done to make Vote Compass optimally accessible?
Scott: There is, but full credit to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for getting in touch and providing us with an opportunity to give more detailed feedback. Back in 2013 when we first looked at this there were a number of accessibility issues, particularly when you changed colour to a high contrast theme and a lot of the sidebars would disappear and this was a really big issue. What’s terrific this time around is that the feedback that we provided and the work that they’ve done in the past three years have made it much more accessible, and going through Vote Compass there’s now multiple options for input. So you can either click on the option you want or you can type a letter on the keyboard to choose the option you want, and optimally that whole process is far more accessible and worked quite well with a screen reader. However, the ABC website that it’s imbedded in still has a few little niggly things, so yeah, it’s certainly not perfect but that said we have seen some significant progress. So whilst the political parties still have a lot of work to do with their website it’s great to see that if people are trying to make decisions about which party to vote for, Vote Compass is now a real viable option.
Philip: Fantastic. Actually, staying with Vote Compass just for a moment, people with a cognitive disability, there are a number of different issues that we have to keep in mind so that websites can be easily accessed and used by these people. Has Vote Compass ticked the box in terms of cognitive disability?
Scott: I think the nature of the website will make it difficult for some people with a cognitive disability as a lot of the questions are quite political, understandably so, and sometimes they’re about issues, and being able to easily understand what the questions are asking and what answers are expected may be difficult for some people with a cognitive disability. But in terms of the access requirements, it is quite good in terms of having that multiple input, like we were saying before. So that if you do find a bit easier to understand that by pressing the A key you’re choosing this option, the B key, rather than having to try to click for example. That’s really helpful. And there has been a lot of effort made to really clearly explain what that question is and at the end of Vote Compass survey, when you get all your results, they do got to a lot of effort to present information in different ways, through graphs or through question summaries or showing little boxes as to where your views align, compared to other political parties. So I think a lot of effort has gone into trying to provide the information in different ways and that certainly helps people with a cognitive disability.
Philip: Oh that’s great. If there’s one thing that you’d like political parties to be more aware of when it comes to their digital interactivity to people with a disability what would that be?
Scott: I think it would just be the need to make sure that assistive technologies can work with their sites. Ultimately when we do come to elections we want to be informed, we want to be able to make informed decisions that really represent our views. And in order to do that it’s becoming more and more essential that we can find that information online and then we can compare different political parties. At the moment it’s on one hand great to see that the videos are now largely captioned, so that’s certainly one step forward from the last time we looked at this space, but to try and just get to the policies is really hard. One other thing connected to that is to make it really easy for people to get in touch with the parties, so another thing we looked at through this process was how easy is it to find the contact information. On all the websites that’s still a challenging process. So I think the combination of needing to make sure that assistive technologies work with the sites and if people do get stuck they have the ability to get in touch to get more information. If those two could be worked out, and this applies across the board, then the experience would be much better and people can make a much more informed decision.
Philip: And we all want that. Are you optimistic, Scott, that in another three years these websites and apps will have further improved in terms of their accessibility and all‑round usability?
Scott: That’s a great question and it has been very encouraging to see that whilst the websites themselves are still a bit of a mess, probably the biggest disappointment is that the Australian Electoral Commission site still has that CAPTCHA that stops people checking their enrolment details. So there are still some frustrations if we’re looking at where we are today. But look, I’m optimistic. I mean if we look at the past three years we’ve seen a lot more captioning on the videos. In fact all the videos we did in the sample were captioned and that’s a really encouraging sign. We see Vote Compass a lot better. So I’m optimistic that in three years’ a number of these issues will be addressed. Certainly out of the four websites the Greens is probably the one that had improved the most. So it’s not a stagnant issue, there are improvements being made but certainly there’s a lot more work to do and as accessibility and the awareness of that and the need for that continues to increase I’m optimistic we’ll see more improvements to come.
Philip: That’s great. Well thank you so much Scott for your time.
Scott: Thank you Philip.
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