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Internet and Web Technology: On-Line Information Strategies
National Health Informatics Conference -- Hobart 1999

World Wide Web Access:
Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes
(Version 3.1 May 1999)

copied from HREOC Website 11 July/99 [Apologies for any 
errors introduced in reformatting the document for this 

Change from version 2.2 of these Advisory Notes: the 
main reference point endorsed by these Notes is now the 
AusInfo Guidelines for Commonwealth Information 
Published in Electronic Formats

People who provide goods and services over the Internet 
need to think about how they make their WWW sites 
accessible to people with disabilities. Access can be 
readily achieved if good design practices are followed.

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity 
Commission (HREOC) is drawing attention to resources 
that will help authors and designers maketheir World 
Wide Web documents accessible to the broadest possible
audience. In these Advisory Notes HREOC aims to provide 
advice about how people can avoid disability 
discrimination without sacrificing the richness and 
variety of communication offered by the WWW. 

These Advisory Notes cannot be exhaustive. In 
considering any complaints about access the Commission 
would take into account the extent to which a service 
provider has attempted to utilise the best current 
information and advice wherever it can be found. 

The Commission does not at this stage believe that there 
is a single standard against which accessibility can be 
measured. We do hope that the developments described in 
these Advisory Notes lead to theemergence of consistent 
universal guidelines in due course. 

The AusInfo Guidelines for Commonwealth Information 
Published in Electronic Formats were launched by the 
Australian government on 23 March 1999. They are an
excellent source of advice about preparing electronic 

Few areas compare with the Internet and WWW for pace of 
change in technical standards. These Notes are not about 
the content of web pages have nothing to say about what 
is appropriate subject matter for publication on the 
Internet. Nor are the Notes legal requirements. They are 
advice about good design practices that will help make 
web pages, no matter what their content, available to 
the widest range of people. 
Accessibility does not involve an assumption that all 
pages can be limited to plain text. More sophisticated 
and innovative pages can and should also be made 
accessible. In general, this involves provision of 
alternatives to an otherwise inaccessible feature, 
rather than any requirement to avoid innovative design.

The rest of these advisory notes provides background 
information on accessibility and legal issues. As 
always, comments and suggestions for improvement of 
these Advisory Notes are welcome.


1.1 Equal Access and the Web: Some Issues 1.2 Equal 
Access is Required by Law 1.3 Purposes and Status of 
These Notes 

 Access advice 
 2.1 Why HREOC is recommending the AusInfo Guidelines 
2.2 Other resources

What Limits Are There on Obligations to Comply with 
Access Requirements? 
3.1 How is Unjustifiable Hardship Interpreted 3.2 Nature 
of Benefit Or Detriment 
3.3 Effect of A Person's Disability 
3.4 Financial Circumstances and Expenditure Required 3.5 
Action Plan 

 1. Introduction
 These advisory notes are issued by the Australian Human 
Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission ("HREOC") under 
section 67(1)(k) of the Disability Discrimination Act 
1992 ("the DDA"), which authorises HREOC to issue 
guidelines for the purpose of avoiding discrimination. 
These Notes are not legal requirements: they are advice 
on how to avoid discrimination. 

1.1 Equal Access and the Web: Some Issues
Government, business, educational and other 
organisations in Australia are increasingly using the 
World Wide Web as a means of providing large numbers of 
people with access to information and other services in 
a timely and cost effective way. 
Availability of information and services in electronic 
form via the World Wide Web has the potential to provide 
equal access for people with a disability; and to 
provide access more broadly, more cheaply and more 
quickly than is otherwise possible using other formats: 
1. People who are blind or have vision impairments can 
use appropriate equipment and software to gain access to 
electronic documents in Braille, audio or large print 
 2. Deaf people or people with hearing impairments could 
have more ready access to captioning or transcription of 
sound material;
 3. Many people whose disability makes it difficult to 
handle or read paper pages can use a computer, for 
example with a modified keyboard or with voice control;
 4. World Wide Web publication may provide an effective 
means of access for people whose disability makes it 
difficult for them to travel to or enter premises where 
the paper form of a document is available.
By itself, however, presence of a document on the World 
Wide Web does not guarantee accessibility. For example: 
1. current text readers and Braille output devices are 
not able to deal with information or links presented 
only in graphics or photographic format;
2. material provided only in audio format will not be 
accessible to Deaf people or some people with hearing 
impairments unless an alternative is provided;

3. although users can determine many aspects of colour, 
size and print font of output for themselves, some 
approaches to text form or colour will render access 
difficult or impossible for users with impaired vision 
(and in some cases many other users also).
Further, people with a disability have, on average, 
lower incomes than other members of the community and 
may not have access to "state of the art" equipment and 
software. So, even if access is technically possible, a 
page may not provide reasonable access in practice. 
 On the basis of available expert information, it 
appears that it is technically feasible to remove many 
barriers to equal access for people with a disability in 
this area; and that this may be done in a way which does 
not detract from the usefulness or attractiveness to 
other users of Web pages, or in many cases actually 
benefits all users. 
 The DDA does not require, and these notes do not 
suggest, that Web pages be restricted only to plain 
black and white text. Forms and formats which give 
increased functionality for some users or increased 
scope for creativity by developers are not prohibited or 
discouraged. It is essential, however, that where a 
feature does not itself provide equal accessibility, an 
effective accessible alternative should be provided 
unless this is not reasonably possible. 

1.2 Equal Access is Required by Law
Provision of information and other material through the 
Web is a service covered by the DDA. Equal access for 
people with a disability in this area is required by the 
DDA where it can reasonably be provided. 
This requirement applies to any individual or 
organisation developing a World Wide Web page in 
Australia, or placing or maintaining a Web page on an 
Australian server. 
This includes pages developed or maintained for purposes 
relating to employment; education; provision of services 
including professional services, banking, insurance or 
financial services, entertainment or recreation, 
telecommunications services, public transport services, 
or government services; sale or rental of real estate; 
sport; activities of voluntary associations; or 
administration of Commonwealth laws or programs. All 
these are areas specifically covered by the DDA. 
In addition to these specific areas, provision of any 
other information or other services or facilities 
through the Internet is in itself a service and as such, 
discrimination in the provision of this service is 
covered by the DDA. The DDA applies to services whether 
provided for payment or not. 

1.3 Purposes and Status of These Notes
These advisory notes are intended to assist people and 
organisations involved in developing or modifying World 
Wide Web documents, by making clearer what the 
requirements of the DDA are in this area and how they 
be complied with. 
 These notes do not have direct legal force or 
substitute for the provisions of the DDA itself. 
However, HREOC and other anti-discrimination agencies 
can consider these notes in dealing with complaints 
under the DDA Following the advice provided here should 
also make it far less likely that a Web publisher would 
be subject to complaints. 
 These notes are only concerned with equal accessibility 
of information and other services provided through the 
World Wide Web. 
They are not directly concerned with issues of 
availability and design of appropriate output equipment 
and software for users with a disability to gain access 
to material through the Internet. They do however seek 
to achieve compatibility of World Wide Web pages with 
equipment and systems commonly in use by people with a 
The notes do not deal with distribution of information 
through other aspects of the Internet such as e-mail or 
news groups. Any comments in these areas would however 
be received with interest. 
The notes are not concerned with the content or 
suitability of material placed on the World Wide Web. 
They do not deal with issues of privacy or inappropriate 
publication of personal information, or other issues of 
whether particular information should or should not be 
made available through the World Wide Web. They deal 
only with requirements for people with a disability to 
have access which is equally effective with that 
afforded to other users. 
HREOC agrees with comments that, because of the 
continued rapid development of the World Wide Web, these 
notes should concentrate on performance requirements 
rather than over-specifying technical means of meeting 
these requirements. However, these notes also seek to 
refer Web page developers to effective means of meeting 
access requirements. 
The notes adopt the approach, suggested by a number of 
comments, of referring to current technical guidelines 
and recommending that these technical guidelines be 
References to and information about selected guidance 
material are included at the end of these notes. HREOC 
intends that these references would be updated as HREOC 
becomes aware of a need to do so, including in response 
to information from industry and consumers. 
These notes have been developed taking into account 
comments on a discussion paper released by HREOC in late 
1996 and draft advice released in March 1997. They have 
been revised in March 1999 to take account of recent 
developments, especially the Web Access Initiative of 
the World Wide Web Consortium.
Suggestions for further revision or updates to these 
notes would be welcome. Comments may be sent by e-mail 
to disabdis@hreoc.gov.au or by mail to:
Disability Rights Unit Human Rights and Equal 
Opportunity Commission GPO Box 5218
Sydney NSW 1042.

2. Access advice
2.1 Why HREOC is recommending the AusInfo Guidelines
The first version of these Advisory Notes contained 12 
basic points about accessible web design. These have 
been replaced by reference to a single document. The 
AusInfo Guidelines give sound advice on a wide range of 
issues in electronic publishing including access for 
people with disabilities. The Commission believes that 
integrating accessibility into general authoring and 
publishing advice is a good way of bringing it into 
mainstream practice.

The AusInfo Guidelines are intended to evolve to keep 
pace with best practice. The Commission believes that 
reasonable attempts to achieve current best practice 
will generally satisfy the access requirements of the 
The W3C/WAI has made important announcements that 
authors of web pages should consider. The W3C announced 
on 5 May 1999 that the document containing their Web 
Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 has been reviewed 
by W3C Members and other interested parties and has been 
endorsed by the Director as a W3C Recommendation. It is 
a stable document and may be used as reference material 
or cited as a normative reference from another 
documents. W3C's role in making the Recommendation is to 
draw attention to the specification and to promote its 
widespread deployment. This enhances the functionality 
and universality of the Web.
HREOC makes general recommendations about resources to 
be consulted for guidance, including the AusInfo 
Guidelines and the W3C work. We think that the resources 
described in these advisory notes will help people 
provide accessible online services as required by the 
Disability Discrimination Act. It is important to 
recognise that there is at present no single definitive 
set of guidelines in this area. Web designers and 
authors have a range or tools and resources to choose 
from in meeting accessibility goals.

The main issues that have determined HREOC's policy are:
1. The WWW is by its very nature a global activity. Wide 
accessibility will be assisted by a universal 
performance standard and could be hindered by 
proliferation of a multitude of standards.
2. Development of industry standards in this area is 
proceeding at a rapid pace and a high level of expertise 
is involved. HREOC wants to encourage web designers to 
use expert information that is keeps up to date with WWW 
publishing and access challenges and solutions.
3. it is important that people with disabilities be 
closely involved in initiatives aimed at avoiding 
disability discrimination. There is much evidence now 
that people with disabilities are involved in an 
equitable manner in WWW access discussions about 
developing standards and authoring tools.
4. There is the need for much more effort to encourage 
implementation of accessible design. Building an 
inaccessible website can easily be avoided if people are 
given good information about what to do.
5. A complaint of disability discrimination is unlikely 
to succeed if accessibility has been considered at the 
design stage and reasonable steps have been taken to 
provide access. As a general rule, it would be 
unreasonable to require features that would exceed the 
best current standards or features that would impose 
unjustifiable hardship on the provider. In considering a 
disability discrimination complaint about WWW access, 
HREOC would take into consideration the extent to which 
the best available advice on accessibility had been 

2.2 Other resources
2.3 Another resource which may be useful to Web authors 
is "Bobby" which is designed to check Web pages for 
accessibility, report on problem areas and suggest 
possible improvements. 
There is considerable expert literature in this area 
involving academic, industry, government and community 
experts. A major source of such literature is the Web 
Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web 
 Comments would also be welcome directing HREOC's 
attention to other sources of expertise, information or 
assistance in this area. 
These advisory notes seek to point out areas of Web page 
design where accessibility may be a problem, and to 
provide strategies for achieving access without 
sacrificing presentation qualities, or functionality 
including multimedia elements.

 3. What Limits Are There on Obligations to Comply With 
Access Requirements?
The advice provided in this document is intended to give 
effect to the requirement of the DDA for access to be 
provided without unreasonable barriers which exclude or 
disadvantage people with a disability. 
In some (but not all) circumstances, obligations under 
the DDA to provide equal access are limited by the 
concept of unjustifiable hardship. A provider may be 
able to demonstrate that it would involve unjustifiable
hardship to meet particular access requirements. 
Providers should note that unjustifiable hardship has to 
be demonstrated and cannot be simply assumed. In 
particular, stylistic preferences rather than functional 
requirements are highly unlikely to be accepted as 
constituting a basis for a defence of unjustifiable 
hardship (other than in cases where the artistic form of 
a site is a significant function). This does not imply 
any attempt to prohibit innovative design. It does mean 
that design must address access requirements, directly 
or by provision of alternative means of access. 
Commonwealth Government departments and agencies, and 
other organisations where they are involved in 
administration of Commonwealth laws and programs, do not 
have the benefit of an explicit unjustifiable hardship 
defence under the DDA. These organisations are required 
to provide equal access free from unreasonable barriers. 

3.1 How is Unjustifiable Hardship Interpreted
Where issues of unjustifiable hardship have to be 
decided, section 11 of the DDA requires HREOC or the 
courts to consider all relevant circumstances of the 
case, including: 
 a. the nature of the benefit or detriment likely to 
accrue or be suffered by any persons concerned; and
 b. the effect of the disability of a person concerned; 
 c. the financial circumstances and the estimated amount 
of expenditure required to be made by the person 
claiming unjustifiable hardship; and
 d. in the case of the provision of services, or the 
making available of facilities - an action plan given to 
the Commission under section 64.
Some of the ways these factors may apply to Web access 
issues are as follows. 

3.2 Nature of Benefit Or Detriment
Unjustifiable hardship decisions involve balancing 
benefits of providing equal access against detriment 
which may be incurred in achieving access.
Benefits to consider in this area include: 
a. direct benefits of access to people with a disability
 b. benefits to other users whose browsers, hardware or 
line connections have relatively limited capabilities 
and who therefore benefit from provisions of 
alternatives (for example being able to select text 
access for a whole page or for a particular item)
c. benefit to providers by enabling them to reach an 
increased range of users, and to reduce the need to 
implement more expensive means of access which the DDA 
and/or the marketplace might otherwise require.
Relevant forms of detriment to consider might include 
difficulties in achieving compatibility between 
different access requirements, and delays in publication 
associated with translating one format into another. 
These factors, however, may affect how access should be 
achieved, rather than whether it should be achieved at 
Where there is doubt about how different factors should 
be weighed up, it should be noted that the concept of 
unjustifiable hardship has to be interpreted in the 
light of the objects of the DDA, including the object to 
discrimination "as far as possible". The words 
"unjustifiable hardship" in themselves also clearly 
contemplate that some degree of hardship may be 
justifiable, rather than any significant degree of 
expense or difficulty being accepted as prevailing over 
claims for equal access. 

3.3 Effect of A Person's Disability

The reference in the DDA to the effect of a person's 
disability, in HREOC's view, requires recognition of the 
fact that disability inherently means that a person may 
not be able to take advantage of some opportunities, 
equally effectively with other people or in some cases 
at all (at least in the present state of what is 
technically feasible). 
However, this reference directs attention to the actual 
effect of a person's disability rather than to 
assumptions or generalisations. Thus, for example, in 
the current state of technology the effect of blindness 
is NOT that a person cannot read electronic documents. 
Rather, the effect of this disability is that the person 
can read only those electronic 
documents configured so as to be readable by those 
devices delivering 
Braille or audio output which are currently reasonably 
available to the person. 
 3.4 Financial Circumstances and Expenditure Required

Financial cost is likely to be less relevant as a 
limiting factor on required achievement of equal access 
to Web documents than in relation to areas such as 
building access or public transport where extensive and 
expensive civil and mechanical engineering requirements 
arise. To the extent that financial costs do arise, 
these need to be weighed against the benefits of 
measures to achieve access, including benefits to people 
with a disability, other users and potentially to the 
As indicated by the reference to financial resources, 
more demanding requirements may be applied to government 
publishers, corporations and large education providers 
than to individuals or small businesses. This should not 
be taken either as a general exemption for smaller 
providers or
as imposing unsustainable requirements on larger 

3.5 Action Plan
The DDA allows, and HREOC encourages, service providers 
to prepare Action Plans indicating the provider's own 
strategies for eliminating discrimination in its 
services. Relevant terms of such an Action Plan are 
required to be taken into account in considering a 
complaint against a provider which has submitted its 
Action Plan to HREOC. 
These Guidelines may assist service providers in 
preparing Action Plans in relation to their World Wide 
Web presence. HREOC also has materials available on the 
process of preparing an Action Plan and (subject to 
resource limits) may be able to provide further advice 
in this respect on request.
Direct enquiries by E-mail through disabdis@hreoc.gov.au 
Copyright Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 
Presenter Image

This workshop is presented by A C Lynn Zelmer, PhD, a Central Queensland University senior lecturer who has long been involved in health training and health informatics. Contact him by e-mail at L.Zelmer@CQU.edu.au or visit his Home Page at http://vl-zelmer.cqu.edu.au. Research was provided by Hon Prof Amy E Zelmer, Faculty of Arts, Health and Sciences, Central Queensland University.
Paragraph indent LAST UPDATED: 17/8/99 (LZ)