Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Computer and Security Science

Faculty

Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Justin Brown

Abstract

In the most recent statistics, published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2012, it was reported that slightly under one in five people stated they had a disability. A further twenty-one percent of the population (4.7 million people) reported that they had a long-term health condition that did not restrict their everyday activities. This total group of people who suffer either a disability or a long-term health condition numbers 8.9 million people, or over thirty-nine percent of the Australian population. Of the people reporting a disability, 3.7 million or eighty-eight percent of that group experienced limitations in the activities of self-care, mobility or communication, or were restricted in their education or employment. (W3C, 2013c)

In 2010, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) reported that an estimated one in five Australians or 3.95 million people experienced long term impairment. Of this figure, 2.6 million, or roughly fifteen percent of the population, of people with long term impairments are under the age of 65. At that time it was stated that eighty-six percent report that they experience a core limitation, which involves their mobility or communication and may restrict either their schooling or employment. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010; Begbie, 2010) According to these figures, it would appear that the number of people with disabilities that restrict their daily lives has grown in line with population growth.

In June 2010,the Australian Government released the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS) (Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), 2010a). This document outlines the plan for the adoption and implementation of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version 2.0 (W3C, 2008d). This plan provides a strategy for all government websites to conform to WCAG 2.0 Priority Level A by December 2012 and Australian Government sites to WCAG 2.0 Priority Level AA by December 2014.

In Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is responsible for administering the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 (DDA) (Australian Government, 2013a) In order to assist organisations in complying with the DDA, the AHRC has produced the World Wide Web Access: Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes Version 4.0 (Advisory Notes). (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2010). These Advisory Notes reinforce the NTS, but also advise all non-government website holders to ensure their websites are compliant to WCAG 2.0 (W3C, 2008d). New non-government websites must adhere to WCAG 2.0 AA, and existing website owners have until December 31, 2013 to comply with this same level. (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2010)

Australians have clearly embraced using the Web as their preferred method of dealing with the various levels of government. It is estimated that there are over 4600 registered domains in the gov.au space, with more than 4.2 million documents. Australians enter the federal government web space through ‘www.australia.gov.au’ which has led the transition to WCAG 2.0 by declaring their site compliant to WCAG 2.0 AA, with some elements complying with the AAA level. (Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO), 2009).

The purpose of this research was to determine whether such a mandated approach by way of a federal government strategy would accomplish the goal of achieving compliance with WCAG 2.0. In order to accomplish this research goal, a selection of websites from government websites was assessed on a regular basis to observe their accessibility changes during the period of the NTS. In addition, this study included websites from non-government sites in order to observe their accessibility changes and also to compare these results with the government website results. The websites were selected in a targeted sample approach in an attempt to choose websites that would enable comparison of the accessibility results. For instance, the same category of websites from each state was selected including the state library, health, disability services, job search, emergency services and business development. Federal government websites were chosen to reflect these same categories plus additional websites with which it was considered Australians had the most contact, including but not limited to broadcasting, tax, health, and information services. The not-for-profit websites chosen represented those considered most well-known, while those selected for the government-affiliated category included a university from each state plus two utilities. The corporate website category included representatives from large corporations such as banks, airlines, mining companies and major shopping as well as representatives selected from organisations such as telecommunications, travel, public transportation, telecommunications and multimedia. In the local government category, the capital city and next largest city in terms of population was chosen from each state. The selection of websites was done in consultation with academic supervisors, members of the W3C as well as in consultation with staff at the Australian Government Information Management Office.

Barriers in achieving compliance with WCAG 2.0 and critical success factors for those organisations which achieved the greatest level of compliance were identified both through the evaluation data and also through the surveys conducted throughout the research. The lack of a unified methodology for testing the websites for accessibility was highlighted as an area which needs to be addressed if the Government is to be able to conduct checks on agencies to monitor their progress toward achieving compliance with these accepted standards.

The results of this research demonstrate that very few organisations succeeded in meeting even Level A of WCAG by the deadline of December 31, 2012. It is clear however that the government websites achieved greater compliance scores than non-government. In particular, the federal government websites both started as the most accessible and retained that position to the end of the data collection period.

While very few websites in this research were successful in achieving compliance with WCAG 2.0 to even Level A, the NTS was successful in the raising of awareness of the issues and requirements of website accessibility, particularly for government agencies. Conversely, this means that the gap between the accessibility of government and non-government websites has widened which is clearly demonstrated by the results of this research.

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