Web Standards effective from July 2019
We have updated the NZ Government Web Standards, which define how to make sure government websites are accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities.
The new Standards will be the standards to meet from 1 July 2019.
The new Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 and Web Usability Standard 1.3:
- are easier to understand and apply
- better reflect the current use of web technologies by government and its different customers
- will help agencies create more usable websites and deliver more accessible experiences to:
- people with low vision
- people with reading, learning or intellectual disabilities
- people who use mobile and touch-based devices, voice assistant and speech recognition software.
The new Standards incorporate:
- feedback from 2 series of consultations with the NZ Government Web Standards Reference Group and the Government Web Community
- the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, which are the latest version of the international standard for web accessibility.
The new Standards keep the changes to the previous versions’ structure and requirements to a minimum. This was to enable a degree of consistency, continuity and interoperability between them.
Another benefit of this approach is that both of the new Standards are backwards compatible. This means that if your web page conforms to the new Standards, it will automatically also meet the previous version of the Standards.
Some words and phrases in the Standards have been changed to improve readability and comprehension.
We plan to continue improving the guidance in the Standards by using more plain language, as we are aware that the language remains relatively technical and difficult to understand. The improved guidance will also include examples of how to interpret and apply each Standard.
Improved definitions for web pages and websites
To address a longstanding confusion, the glossary definitions for ‘website’ and ‘web page’ now more clearly note that they include things like web applications, web services, and single page applications.
Clarification of the Cabinet mandate to meet the Standards
Section 1.2 of each Standard now notes that the New Zealand Cabinet has mandated that all public service and non-public service departments in the State Services must meet the Web Standards.
Clarification that the Standards apply to all agency websites
In the new Standards, section 1.3 sets out which types of websites the Standards apply to. It now more clearly notes that the Standards apply to all websites agencies are involved with.
This information was previously hidden away in the glossary definitions for ‘publicly available’ and ‘internally facing’.
Removal of the implementation schedule
There is no longer an implementation schedule for making your website(s) compliant with the Standards. This means your website(s) must meet the new Standards when they come into effect on 1 July 2019.
Adoption of WCAG 2.1
The past 10 years have seen significant changes in technology, population demographics and the ways we interact with the web. In June 2018, in response to these changes and perceived gaps in the current version, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released WCAG 2.1.
WCAG 2.1 represents the de facto international standard for web accessibility and it forms the basis of the New Zealand Web Accessibility Standard.
The new NZ Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 now requires WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance.
The New Zealand Government was the first in the world to formally adopt WCAG 2.0 in 2010. Moving to WCAG 2.1 is a clear acknowledgement by the NZ Government of the need to maintain basic web accessibility requirements that:
- are fit for purpose
- better reflect current and future web technologies
- meet the changing needs and demographics of its customers.
As the population ages, the numbers of people with low vision, or learning, reading or memory difficulties continue to grow. Agencies that follow WCAG 2.1 will maximise the reach of their online information and services.
Since WCAG 2.1 was released in June 2018, other countries around the world have taken steps towards adopting this accessibility standard. It’s fully expected that the European Union and countries like Australia and Canada will update their web standards to point to WCAG 2.1.
The UK Government has set WCAG 2.1 Level AA as the basis for its accessibility requirements.
The European Union has updated EN 301 549, the standard it uses to set accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT) procured by the public sector. This standard now requires all web sites, services and applications purchased by EU member states to meet WCAG 2.1.
The Australian Government has adopted EN 301 549 (calling it AS EN 301 549), and in August 2018 their Digital Transformation Agency noted it is exploring WCAG 2.1 for Australian government services.
What’s new in WCAG 2.1?
Additional accessibility requirements
WCAG 2.1 introduces new requirements to help make sure web content is usable for people who:
- use touch interfaces (like smartphones, tablets, and large touch-enabled screens)
- have low vision
- have intellectual or learning disabilities
- use speech recognition software.
However, of the 17 new requirements in WCAG 2.1, only 12 apply at the target AA conformance level you need to meet.
This means there are now a total of 50 requirements you need to meet to comply with the new NZ Web Accessibility Standard. Under the last Standard, there were 38 requirements.
Slightly more effort to test
Meeting the new requirements in WCAG 2.1 involves a bit more testing, but this will reduce over time as implementer and tester knowledge and skills increase, and new support tools are developed.
Of the 12 new requirements in WCAG 2.1, only a few can be checked through automated testing. However, most of them can be reliably tested with a quick manual check, and you can use free testing tools for others.
When considering the effort and cost of testing, it’s important to keep in mind the potentially significant lost benefits if your website doesn’t meet the needs of the growing numbers of people who require the types of accessibility that are now addressed by the changes in 2.1.
No more grace period for captions
Videos are now expected to have captions at the time of publishing on your website.
The previous Web Accessibility Standard (1.0) allowed agencies a grace period of 10 business days to caption a video after publishing it online. The grace period was granted because in 2013 the effort and cost of providing video captions was much higher. Today it’s easy to create captions for videos using simple, free do-it-yourself tools. Inexpensive online captioning services are now also available.
There are several important changes in the new Web Usability Standard 1.3, in addition to some very minor word changes for clarification or readability.
Website home pages to show government identity
Home page section renamed to government identity
We have renamed Section 2.1 of the new Web Usability Standard to ‘Government identity’ from its previous title ‘Home page’. This is to more clearly reflect its purpose, which is to make sure:
- the government agency or agencies that are primarily responsible for the website are identified up front
- a link to the NZ Government’s primary website, Govt.nz, is provided on the home page to more firmly brand the site as a NZ Government website.
Government identity link changed to Govt.nz
Website home pages must now include a link to Govt.nz and not to newzealand.govt.nz, because that domain no longer exists.
Websites to show all-of-government logo
Websites should now display, as part of the link to Govt.nz, a suitable all-of-government logo, such as the common ‘New Zealand Government’ or ‘Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa’ logos from the State Services Commission (SSC).
However, this new requirement remains a ‘should’ (as opposed to a stronger ‘must’) requirement because the SSC all-of-government branding guidelines have not been updated since 2011.
SSC is working on the creation of a new all-of-government brand, but this will not be released until mid-2020.
Clarification of contact information requirements
The contact information requirements in section 2.2 now refer to the ‘Contact Information' each website needs to link to, instead of the ‘Contact Us Page'.
This is to remove any impression that the contact information needs to exist as its own web page. This should also make it easier for websites of different types to meet the contact information requirements, or to reuse the contact information on another website.
We have deleted section 2.2.2 in the current Standard because this requirement is already implicitly covered by section 2.2.1.
Two requirements now also apply to internally facing websites
In a major change to the Web Usability Standard, the ‘Links to non-HTML files’ and ‘Printable pages’ requirements now apply to all internally facing websites as well as public-facing websites.
These 2 requirements are to improve usability for a general audience.
Just as accessibility standards should apply to internally facing websites, so should usability standards. We must make sure all government employees and contractors benefit from the same usability standards we provide users on our public-facing websites.
We are happy to help you with any questions about the new Web Standards.