Internet and Web Technology: On-Line Information
National Health Informatics Conference -- Hobart 1999
copied from HREOC Website 11 July/99 [Apologies for any errors introduced in reformatting the document for this presentation.] 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 publications. 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. Contents Introduction 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 form; 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 can 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 disability. 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 followed. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 DDA. 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 followed. 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 Consortium. 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; and 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 all. 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 eliminate 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 provider. 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 providers. 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 email@example.com Copyright Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1999
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.
LAST UPDATED: 17/8/99 (LZ)