Introducing the Web Accessibility Guidance Project

May 13, 2022
Simon White

The new NZ accessibility guidelines produced by DIA aims to be clearer, more practical, and offers ways to validate accessibility throughout the design and build process. As advocates for accessibility,  this is a fantastic new resource to assist our industry in making the web a more accessible place for all New Zealanders.

The Web Accessibility Guidance Project, led by the Department of Internal Affairs, aims to help Aotearoa New Zealand’s digital creators navigate the accessibility standards required by all government departments. Senior Developer Simon White from Octave shares his thoughts on why these guidelines are so important. 

Why accessibility matters

Accessible websites create a level playing field, giving everyone access to the information and products they need. 24% of New Zealanders identify as having some form of disability and a large proportion of those people are using assistive technology to access the internet. A website that fails to pass accessibility standards won’t reach hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Personally speaking; this issue has been reinforced for me as a member of my extended family has a visual impairment, and I have seen first hand the struggles that those with disabilities face on the web. Small things that the rest of us take for granted, like gray text on a white background, or disabling the ability to zoom, can render a website impossible to navigate for some people.

The problem with accessibility

Designers and developers have been guilty in the past of including accessibility (also known as “a11y”) as an afterthought – giving it little consideration during the design process. This is partly due to budget and time constraints, and partly due to misconceptions on the cost-to-benefit ratio of making digital experiences “accessible”. 

On top of this, the official WCAG standards documentation is dense and difficult to decipher, often without offering specific examples of best practice. 

The future of accessibility

This new set of nationally accepted guidelines aims to be clearer, more practical, and offers a ways to validate accessibility throughout the design and build process. 

These guidelines are written in plain English too, which means it can be used by people of all levels of experience. Practitioners using the guidelines are offered examples of best practice and pointed to extra reading material if the topic strikes a particular interest.

A new Guidance Review Group has been created consisting of practitioners across the digital industry who are deeply involved in a11y work. This group will provide feedback and guidance on an ongoing basis to improve and streamline the guidelines. This governance ensures the document stays fit-for-purpose and evolves as the needs of those using it change over time.

The second revision of the guidelines were released in late March 2022 and include a new general knowledge area, ‘What is web accessibility?’ – relevant to people in any role. 

Following the first round of feedback from the review group other improvements were also made to knowledge areas such as ‘Browsers, code and assistive technologies’, ‘Semantics and markup’ and ‘Language of content’.

As a developer and advocate for accessibility, I welcome this 'go to' resource to assist our industry in making the web a more accessible place for all New Zealanders. Take a look.

 

If you’re keen to work with us to make your website more accessible email logan@octave.nz