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For government organisations needing support to maintain critical digital services during COVID-19, email gcdo@dia.govt.nz

A new short course on how to make digital information and services accessible is being offered by Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), in partnership with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), to support practitioners.

Anyone who visits Digital.govt.nz to read the blog posts, or to get information you need to build better digital services, has probably picked up on how important the NZ Government Web Standards (Web Standards) are to the public sector. 

A reason to care about online accessibility

Beyond the legislative, regulatory and mandatory bits, did you know that of 4.9 million people in New Zealand, 1 in 4 identified themselves as disabled? There is a whole continuum of disabilities, but what disabled people all have in common is an expectation that they can get the services they need from their government. I think 1.2 million people is a pretty good reason to make sure New Zealand public sector websites meet the Web Standards.

In crisis circumstances such as an earthquake, meeting the Web Standards is particularly important to make sure disabled people are not disadvantaged or put at risk. Making critical information accessible could literally save lives.

Bonus: Accessibility benefits everyone

Take a look at the Curb Cut analogy, which really resonated with me. The idea goes like this: to accommodate wheelchair users, cuts were made in existing footpath curbs, and ramps were installed for easy access. Makes sense, right? But this also makes it easier for everyone to get around. Think about a dad with a stroller, a child learning how to ride a bike, or shoppers taking overloaded trolleys from the grocery store to their cars.

There’s also an online equivalent to this analogy. Think of choosing to watch a movie with captions on while commuting to work when it’s hard to hear over the train noise. How about downloading a video transcript for a class you’re taking to use as notes to study? Or reading a web page that has properly structured headings which make the content easier to navigate and understand.

If you’re not convinced yet, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) case studies show that “accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs and increased audience reach, among other benefits.” In other words, following the Web Standards benefits everyone.

New solution to the same old problems

Since 2011, core public sector agencies have conducted 3 Web Standards Self-assessments, which all identified that the 3 persistent issues across government websites continue to be:

  • providing text that describes image content to people who cannot see images
  • making all functionality on web pages work for people using a keyboard instead of a mouse
  • structuring headings correctly so people using assistive technologies can understand how the content is organised and find what they need.

At DIA, Jason Kiss leads the Web Standards work as Principal Advisor on Accessibility. He and others provide Web Standards advice through many channels — through in-person presentations and Yammer posts; by email, through Digital.govt.nz; and by offering frequent, free, open Web Standards Clinics.

But this expertise is a limited resource. Demand for support continues to grow from people working in digital service delivery for the public sector. Through DIA’s ongoing engagement with practitioners, it’s clear people want to follow the Web Standards, but they lack the knowledge they need.

New micro-credential course on digital accessibility

In 2019, DIA digital leadership staff met up with Miriam Lips (Chair in Digital Government) and Elizabeth Eppel (Research Fellow) from VUW to discuss designing a short overview course that focuses on building an understanding of digital accessibility.

So a DIA and VUW partnership created a 6-week micro-credential course on digital accessibility that leverages:

  • DIA’s Web Standards expertise
  • VUW’s course development expertise
  • a shared interest in offering this course to design students and others interested in digital accessibility.

The course will be offered 3 times each year, with the first course starting on 17 April 2020. For more details and to register, visit:

Introduction to digital accessibility: Delivering inclusive digital content

DIA and VUW co-designed the course along with disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs). The design was also informed through regular engagement with practitioners which resulted in:

  • 51 formal expressions of interest to VUW
  • 66 responses to a survey around practitioners’ knowledge of the Web Standards, roles and level of interest
  • 118 views of a Yammer post.

In co-designing the microcredential with VUW and DPOs, engaging with the public sector, and co-creating teaching tools about accessibility, we think we can start to address the knowledge gap in making online information and services accessible to everyone.

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