Here at Talis, striving for best practice in accessibility has always been a priority. With new regulations coming into place, this has shone a spotlight on the work we are doing, and the way we build accessibility features and design into our products.
Why we believe in providing accessible tools
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines “disability as context dependent”.
“Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.”
Microsoft’s Inclusive Toolkit suggests “disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and society”. Exclusion is the result of mismatched interactions, and can be temporary or situational: carrying shopping can lead to performing tasks one-handed; being outside on your mobile phone with bright sunshine makes it difficult to see the screen.
We consider this spectrum of needs when we create our Talis products. We know that accessible websites work better for everyone, whether they have additional requirements or not. When we make a product work more easily for someone specific needs, such as needing to use a keyboard, or a screen reader, the results are often a product that has a better experience for all of us.
Making products accessible is not an add-on step. Understanding the way in which a range of users approach our tools is important, and it allows us to bake accessibility deep into the products as we develop them.
Overview of regulation
At the heart of all things web standards is a group called the World Wide Web Consortium – the W3C. They maintain a document called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which describes nearly 50 different success criteria over three levels: A, AA, and AAA. These criteria are organised into four broad categories: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR). Importantly, these guidelines have become the international standard for web accessibility.
From the 23rd September 2018, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (PSBAR) came into force. In order to meet the legal requirements, websites and mobile applications need to meet WCAG 2.1 AA, and publish an accessibility statement.
In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 applies as a requirement of “…committing to providing information and services in a non-discriminatory and accessible way” and uses WCAG 2.0 AA as its baseline.
New Zealand has its Web Accessibility Standard, effective 1st July 2019. It calls for public sector organisations to meet WCAG 2.1 AA.
The USA introduced legislation known as Section 508 [of the Rehabilitation Act]. This applies “the WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria and conformance requirements to both web and non-web electronic content.”
Why universities should care
Universities shouldn’t just care about digital accessibility because it has been codified into law. The word “university” has roots in the Latin word “universitas”: “the whole”. Opening up opportunities for, and sharing knowledge with, the widest possible audience is the goal.
A vast amount of content is now digital-only, but the benefit of digital content is that it can be more easily made accessible, as it can be transformed and augmented:
- Captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions can be supplied for audio-visual media
- PDF scans can be tagged to preserve data
- Websites can be viewed on all manner of screen-sizes and interaction models, from watches to TVs
…and all of this can be recognised and controlled by the end-users device, be it a mouse, a switch, an eye-gaze device, a screen reader, or a refreshable Braille display.
It might require a little more effort at the start, but everybody benefits.