Australia's federal and state government websites lag behind those in Canada and the European Union in catering to citizens with disabilities.
iTnews surveyed 14 government gateway sites against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A -- a standard endorsed by the Australian Government in 2010.
Australia's National Transition Guidelines call for agencies to meet the WCAG 2.0 A standard by December. The Department of Human Services was the only agency found to comply in iTnews' survey of 23 federal agencies last week.
iTnews this week studied the Federal Government's gateway site, australia.gov.au, as well as those of eight states and territories and international counterparts that share policy concerns in making their websites comply with accessibility standards.
The sites were tested with two independent WCAG 2.0 checkers - the Ontario Government sponsored achecker.ca and Total Validator v.7.4.0. Results for each agency were averaged, sorted and summarised.
Although iTnews found no errors on the Australian Department of Human Services' website last week, no Australian gateway site managed to reach the perfect zero score.
Gateway websites of Canada and the European Union tied for first place in this week's study with zero errors.
The Australian and West Australia gateway sites came a close second, with 1.5 errors each, while the websites of the New Zealand, Tasmanian and Northern Territory Governments tied at third place.
The US Government gateway had an average of 6.5 errors against the WCAG 2.0 A standard. But it was perfectly compliant with standards set by section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act.
Typical errors identified by iTnews' two WCAG checkers included anchors without texts, document languages' not being identified, invalid language codes, no alternate texts to images and no text added to a label elements.
Most errors were "readily fixable" and due to small issues with forms, alternate text and descriptions according to a local web developer and government consultant who declined to be named.
The developer attributed some errors to the validators, noting that the validators might not account for contexts in which alternate text for images might not be necessary.
He said most of the gateway sites surveyed by iTnews were doing a good job, although "vic and sa.gov.au have a little more to do".
Guidelines for the Aussie private sector
Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes last week urged the private sector to be mindful of website accessibility, noting that the "National Transition Strategy and the NBN go hand-in-hand".
"Until very recently, essential Government services were delivered online without any consideration of who could, or couldn't, access them," he stated.
“While the National Transition Strategy guidelines render it particularly pertinent for Australian organisations, accessibility is of increasing importance globally.
"With an increasing number of services and information being moved online, all organisations will benefit from ensuring their website, web applications and digital experiences are accessible.
Chris Jager contributed to this story.
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