We all know that the modern face of any organisation is its website. Customers expect to be able to get the information or services they need online – and this was never more important than during lockdowns, when face-to-face interaction was severely restricted. Many teams within DCS spend hours of their time building and maintaining websites used by thousands of NSW customers every year, and it’s vitally important that NSW customers can access these websites reliably.
But of all those customers who head to your website looking for information or services, how many come across built-in barriers preventing them from finding what they need? And how can you hunt down and fix these issues?
If you caught the speech by NSW Government Chief Information and Digital Officer Greg Wells at the 2021 Digital.NSW Digital Showcase, you will know that one of Digital.NSW’s key focuses for 2022 will be digital accessibility. And this Friday is International Day of People with Disability, so what better time to reduce barriers for your users with and without disability!
But what is digital accessibility, why is it important, and how can you bust down barriers and improve the accessibility of your team’s website?
What is digital accessibility?
Digital accessibility means building digital and ICT solutions with the needs of the user base in mind, including people with disability. More and more people use digital tools and technologies to navigate websites, interact with digital technologies and perceive and understand web-based information. Websites in particular must be developed and designed in a way that integrates these needs, without putting up barriers for users.
In NSW we aim for compliance to an AA rating of the current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). It’s also best practice – who wouldn’t want more users to be able to access their website?
Why is it important?
Websites are designed to be accessible by the majority of people - but designing for the majority doesn’t mean the majority have no problems accessing it. We’ve all tried to access a website and been unable to because it isn’t designed with our needs in mind. Mobile-unfriendly sites, sites that only work on some browsers, broken links and ads covering content all spring to mind. While this can be highly annoying to website users, some problems can be so severe that the website is totally unusable.
In fact, an inaccessible website can often be totally inaccessible to a big chunk of your users, and particularly users with disability. Websites need to be developed and designed with accessibility in mind to prevent this, but this is often not the case. Web accessibility is a huge issue affecting websites all over the world and preventing users from accessing the information they need, and Australia is no different.
Tip #1 – Avoid using colour to show information
Some people use colour as a shorthand to show information – for example, red for bad and green for good.
While this makes sense for some, for others who can’t perceive the difference between colours, it makes it impossible to understand what is being expressed. From personal experience, I know that this also makes it very hard for people using greyscale filters on their mobile device!
An easy way to make your information make sense to a larger group of people is to supplement colour with text, icons or other visual ways to communicate. For graphs, you can use icons or different shadings.
Tip #2 – Links should describe where they’re going!
This one is very easy to fix and makes a huge difference for people who use screen readers. Those who use a screen reader will know that their device allows them to skip between links to more quickly find what they need. But hyperlinks are often remarkably undescriptive – link here, for example, tells you nothing about what this link will take you to – so for the person using the screen reader, it can be next to impossible to know which link is the right one.
To fix this, simply review all links in your webpage and make sure the destination is clear in the hyperlink text. Done!
Tip #3 – Use the NSW Design System
At Digital.NSW we are passionate about digital accessibility – just check out our Digital.NSW Stories page to see the blog posts we’ve written on the subject. And one of the ways we put our passion into action is through the NSW Design System.
The Design System has patterns and components to build digital services. Not only do these components look great and meet NSW government branding guidelines – they’re also compliant with WCAG 2.1AA! Further, customisable font, colour and contrast settings are already built into these components. This means that, when you use Design System components in your digital product or service, you can be sure that those components are designed with accessibility in mind.
We estimate that teams are saving $12,000 per website on accessibility by using the design system. Why not be the next team to save money and build in accessibility using the Design System?
If you’ve checked the above and found no problems – well done, but your accessibility journey is not over! Accessibility is a journey, not a destination, and DCS’s upcoming Accessibility NSW team will work to help all NSW Government employees feel confident making their digital and ICT products and services accessible.
If you need help checking your website, or if you’ve experienced an inaccessible NSW Government website – or even if you have an accessibility idea you’d like to share – please reach out to Digital.Accessibility@customerservice.nsw.gov.au. We’d love to hear from you!