Web accessibility is about inclusion — making sure everyone, including disabled people and those using assistive technologies, can access online information and services.
Why is web accessibility important?
Soft music plays in the background.
At the top of a black screen is the logo for Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa New Zealand Government. Underneath the logo is the text ‘Why is web accessibility important?’.
Cut to Callum McMenamin. On-screen text reads ‘Callum McMenamin, Principal Advisor Accessibility, Hīkina Whakatutuki, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’.
Callum McMenamin: “I spend a lot of time on the internet, you know, in my job and in my personal life, and I encounter a wide range of how accessible those systems are. There are some systems that I basically can’t use at all.”
Cut to Daniel Harborne. On-screen text reads ‘Daniel Harborne, NZSL Information and Resources Team Leader, Deaf Aotearoa’.
[Daniel Harborne uses New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Here, he communicates through an NZSL interpreter who translates between NZSL and English.]
Daniel Harborne (in NZSL): “If information is relevant to me — I’m a New Zealand citizen, I’m living here — I should be able to expect at bare minimum that there would be captions to videos.”
Cut to a black screen. On the left half of the screen is a blue circle. One quarter of the circle changes colour to yellow. To the right, symbols for visual, hearing, mobility and learning impairments are displayed in sequence.
Narrator: Almost a quarter of New Zealanders self-identify as disabled. They have one or more long term visual, hearing, mobility or learning impairments.
Cut to Paul James. On-screen text reads ‘Paul James, Government Chief Digital Officer, Chief Executive, Digital Public Service, Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs’.
Paul James: “New Zealanders with disabilities are our whānau, they’re our kaimahi and they’re our customers. So we provide, as New Zealand government, information and services to New Zealanders and they have an entitlement to that information and services as well.”
Cut to Ann-Marie Cavanagh. On-screen text reads ‘Ann-Marie Cavanagh, Deputy Chief Executive, Digital Public Service, Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs’.
Ann-Marie Cavanagh: “We know that over half of New Zealanders over 65 are disabled, so it’s critical that we make sure that our content that’s delivered through our online channels is easily accessible and that we’re not excluding those communities or those parts of the New Zealand community.”
Cut to footage of a blind person using a computer with a refreshable braille display.
Narrator: “Disabled people often use special hardware and software called assistive technologies that help them access and interact with web content. Sometimes disabled people need content to be in a certain format, such as captions on a video or sign language translation.”
Cut to Daniel Harborne (in NZSL): “And I thought with the COVID situation, when they brought the interpreters on and they were talking about, tonight we’re going to be locking down the country, you know, things are going to be closing. I remember thinking, okay, I need to go and get some food. I quickly dashed out, went to the supermarket, made sure I had enough food. If I hadn’t had an interpreter on screen at that time and I had to read it in the newspaper the next day, or watch the 6 o’clock news the next day to finally have access to know that everything shut, I would have then gone to the supermarket and the shelves would have been empty by then.”
Cut to footage of a web browser navigating from a page on the NZ Government Web Standards, to a page on the Web Accessibility Standard, to the W3C’s page on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
Narrator: “The New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Standard requires that public service departments make their websites accessible. This means that each web page needs to meet the internationally recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the W3C.”
Cut to Ann-Marie Cavanagh: “So it would be important, I think, for agencies to ensure that as you’re building out your digital service delivery and your online service delivery to really start from the get-go to include those New Zealanders with disabilities in that co-creation process.”
Cut to Paul James: “It’s really important that leaders and everyone involved in this work takes a sense of responsibility and obligation to make sure that we do hit those standards of accessibility so that all New Zealanders, including those with disabilities, can access the information and services.”
Cut to Callum McMenamin: “I don’t think everything’s ever going to be perfect. I think it’s always going to take constant effort to make things accessible in the same way it takes constant effort to make information secure and to respect privacy regulations. It takes constant effort, constant expertise. I don’t think there’s going to be a lack of work any time soon.”
Cut to a black screen. At the bottom is the logo for Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs. Above the logo is the text “learn more at digital.govt.nz”.
Fade to black.
For information about the making of this video, read Walking the talk: Creating an accessible video about web accessibility.
It’s a human right
Anyone — particularly in government — who delivers a service to the public has a responsibility to make sure information can be accessed by everyone.
Online content must be accessible to provide equal access and equal opportunity to disabled people. It’s a human right.
- Why: The case for web accessibility — World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- Article 9. Accessibility — United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The New Zealand Web Accessibility Standard 1.1
All public service and non-public service agencies must meet the NZ Government Web Accessibility Standard 1.1.
This Standard is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, the international standard for web accessibility.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1
WCAG 2.1 sets out requirements, known as ‘success criteria’, for making web content more accessible.
There are nearly 50 individual success criteria that must be met in order to meet WCAG 2.1. These are grouped under 4 principles:
- Perceivable — information and user interface must be presented in ways that users can perceive.
- Operable — functionality must be available to all users, for example through a keyboard.
- Understandable — make content readable and understandable.
- Robust — content must be robust enough to be interpreted by a wide variety of users and assistive technologies.
- More people can access online information and services
- Accessible websites are easier to use
- Accessible websites not only help people with disabilities but also help older people and people from different cultures
- Government organisations can reach a significantly larger portion of New Zealanders
- People can better participate in society
- Accessible sites are easier for search engines to crawl
- Cost savings can be made by building an accessible website from the beginning rather than fixing issues after development
How to create accessible content
It’s easiest and cheapest to think about accessibility at the start of a project. If you work as a content person, designer or developer you should think about web accessibility while you are working.
Things to consider include:
- using plain English so content is clear and easy to understand
- writing content specifically for the web instead of publishing documents designed for print
- including alt text with images
- providing long descriptions for tables, graphs and diagrams when alt text isn’t long enough to describe the complexity
- providing captions and transcripts for video
- marking up content with the correct HTML elements, for example headings, lists and tables
- providing enough colour contrast between text and background
- making sure webpages can be used with only a keyboard
- making sure keyboard focus is easily visible.
Assessment and reporting
You need to assess and report on your conformance with the Standard when requested by the Department of Internal Affairs. This includes submitting a risk assessment and management plan regarding any areas of non-conformance.