Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for ensuring media and communications work for all Australians. It does this through various legislation, regulations, standards and codes of practice. The ACMA is a converged regulator, created to oversee the convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting, radio communications and the internet. They cover the internet, phones, television, radio, content, spectrum and equipment compliance. They set and manage rules about communications and media services and markets. They licence people, organisations and products to operate in Australia. They look into complaints and problems and take action when rules aren’t being followed, and they plan and manage the airwaves and make space for new services, like 5G.
EN 301 549
The EN 301 549 (otherwise known as Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services Product Designation: AS EN 301 549), which originated in Europe, was formally adopted in Australia in December 2016, as a part of the federal government’s procurement policies for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and also serves as advice for state and local governments. For the first time, there is a procurement standard that can be used to assess the accessibility of any technology that is acquired, and suppliers will need to identify how they meet this standard when asked. EN 301 549, now ratified by Standards Australia, was launched in 2014 by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute. The standard specifies a broad range of accessibility requirements applicable to ICT products and services (such as software, hardware and any other form of technology that a person may interact with such as an information kiosk), and applies them to procurement. When referenced within any procurement policy, suppliers must state how their product or service meets the accessibility requirements in the standard.
For Accessibility needs, the standard has a series of ‘functional performance statements’ that identify users’ access needs that must be met to conform with the standard. They focus on users who: are blind, have low vision, or are colour-blind, are Deaf or hard of hearing, cannot communicate vocally, have limited hand strength or limited reach, may experience seizures and are neurodiverse. For Accessibility requirements, the standard also has a long list of ‘functional accessibility requirements’ for different types of products and services, each of which need to be met in order to satisfy the procurement guidelines. Requirements focus on the way that information can be presented, viewed, or interacted with. In addition to generic requirements for all ICT products and services, there are specific requirements for: hardware and software, technologies with two-way voice communication, technologies that allow videos to be played, websites, non-web documents and technologies that provide access to emergency services. Examples of these requirements include: If textual information is presented on a screen, users should be able to make the text bigger, Web and software technologies should be able to interact with screen readers or have other inbuilt capabilities that allows information to be read out and if information is intended to be communicated through means other than a user’s voice (sign-language, text, lip reading), this communication can be completed through a two-way channel. Accessibility requirements for websites and web content leverage the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, explicitly stating WCAG 2.0 Level AA (including Level A) as the benchmark. Where it’s appropriate, relevant WCAG criteria have been applied to other technologies, such as hardware and software.
EN 301 549 is a standard that can and should be universally adopted. Any business or organisation can include it in their technology policies and procurement. With the Digital Service Standard making specific references to accessibility and inclusive design, as well as EN 301 549 now being included as a part of the Australian government’s ICT procurement, there are now several government policies and procedures that include accessibility. Moving forward, accessibility of government websites and technologies should continue to improve. Any technology that is acquired should be able to have all of its users be able to use it, including completing all necessary tasks and using all functionality within it.
Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA)
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) plays a vital role in accessibility legislation as its advisory notes makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person, in many areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places, because of their disability. These advisory notes are issued by the Australian Human Rights Commission under section 67(1)(k) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (“the DDA”), which authorises the Commission to issue guidelines for the purpose of avoiding discrimination. They are intended to assist individuals and organisations involved in the ownership or development of web resources, by clarifying the requirements of the DDA in this area and explaining how compliance with them can be best achieved. The Commission and other anti-discrimination agencies can consider dealing with complaints lodged under the DDA.
Developments in standards, protocols and technologies used on the internet take place at a very rapid rate. These notes are therefore not designed to be exhaustive, or to provide technical advice about current practices. 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 regarding the development of accessible websites. This (the DDA and its advisory notes) does not imply that web resources be restricted to only plain black and white text, but rather there is a reminder that it is essential that where a feature does not provide equal accessibility, an effective accessible alternative must be provided, unless there is not a reasonable possibility of doing so. The provision of information and online services 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 website or other web resource in Australia or placing or maintaining a web resource on an Australian server. This includes web pages and other resources developed or maintained for purposes related 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 and programs. All these are areas specifically covered by the DDA.
In addition to these specific areas, provision of any other information or other goods, 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. Therefore, organisations who publish documents only in PDF form risk complaints through the DDA, unless they make their content available in another additional accessible format that distributes the meaning of the document structure, its design and content to mobile users, and must make this format available simultaneously with the PDF version. Web designers should also assume that majority of users with disability will not have access to the latest version of software or lack knowledge of its advanced features, and thus must consider and incorporate this in their initial design.
Accessibility challenges in Australia for people with disability
One of the issues within Australian accessibility policy is that the DDA has no explicit reference to ICT at all (no mention of computers) – despite it being mentioned in the advisory note. This is because it was created in 1992, and technology was not as advanced back then. This lack of explicit reference to ICT within the DDA is an issue in our contemporary society, as technology and computers are now used on a daily basis, as an important tool for completing work, thus the lack of reference, fails to acknowledge the requirements regarding technology advancement and sufficient accessibility for Australians with disability.
Another issue within Australian accessibility policy revolves around one of the reasons why people might not undertake accessibility, and this is because of the justifiable hardship clause, due to Section 24 of the DDA. It states that ‘discrimination in access to and use of goods, services and facilities, is in the manner in which goods or services are provided or the facilities are made available.’ This provides companies with an escape route if they don’t wish to comply with the accessibility requirements. Many companies use the justifiable hardship clause as an excuse for their lack of sufficient accessibility. A successful challenge to this was the Bruce Maguire Vs Socog Case. This case revolved around the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG) failing to make the Olympics website accessible, as they argued under section 24 that they were not obligated to do so. However, the Human Rights Commission determined that SOCOG had breached the DDA, and ordered it to make its website accessible by a certain date.
National Disability Strategy (NDS) (2010-2020 & the New 2021 Strategy)
Another policy that addresses accessibility for people with disability in Australia is the National Disability Strategy (NDS) (2010-2020). The Australian Government has developed the new National Disability Strategy to replace the previous one which finished at the end of 2020. The governments across Australia are working together in consultation with people with disability to develop the new Strategy to take effect later in 2021. In December of 2020, Disability Ministers across Australia issued a Statement of Continued Commitment to the National Disability Strategy, to continue efforts to uphold the rights of people with disability between the expiry of the Strategy at the end of 2020, and the finalisation of the new National Disability Strategy in 2021.
Engaging people with disability as part of the new National Disability Strategy, was developed to show the commitment of governments toward involving people with disability in the implementation of the new Strategy. In addition, to further support improvements, the Australian Government will fund the development of Good Practice Guidelines for the engagement of people with disability. The Guidelines will be a valuable resource to remove barriers to participation for people with disability. Consultations have taken place in stages over three years to enable people with disability to have a say during all phases of developing the Strategy. In 2018, targeted consultations were held on the Review of implementation of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. In 2019, first stage community engagement consultations were held around Australia, and were aimed at hearing from people with disability about developing a new Strategy for beyond 2020.
A report, ‘Right to opportunity: Consultation report to help shape the next national disability strategy’, was released following the Stage 1 consultations and is available in a variety of accessible formats. The feedback received during the 2018 and 2019 consultations informed the development of a National Disability Strategy Position Paper (the position paper). The position paper outlined the government’s proposals for the new Strategy and formed the basis of Stage 2 consultations held in the second half of 2020. The proposals included: the vision, outcome areas and guiding principles for the new Strategy, a stronger focus on improving community attitudes, clearly describing roles and responsibilities of governments and the community, regular public reporting that shows whether the key outcomes for people with disability are improving, developing targeted action plans to drive better implementation, and how people with disability can be engaged in the delivery and monitoring of the next Strategy.
Impact of International policies on Australian Accessibility Regulation
The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) is relevant to the Australian context as it has led to higher levels of captioning on Australian video streaming services. Within Australia, the approach taken to the ways in which people with a disability access television is heavily influenced by legislation and activism from abroad. Subscription Video on Demand (VOD) services have caused a major shift in the way television is used and consumed in Australia. On an international level, audio description is becoming more available on VOD than it is on broadcast television, thus allowing people with disability access to television. While providers are still governed by national regulations, these regulations are influenced by international legislation. Further, the presence and success of advocacy groups to agitate for change has improved the way accessibility is viewed and defined in Australia. The Accessible Netflix Project, in conjunction with the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) in the US, despite having no jurisdiction in Australia, have improved the availability of captions here. This has happened because captioning created by Netflix for the American market has also been included on Netflix’s Australian service.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies to make their ICT such as technology, online training and websites accessible for everyone. This has an impact on Australian requirements, because it required that anything that was used within the US government had to work for people with disability. WCAG was implemented in the US government, which had implications for Australia. This is because hardware and software that was sold in the US had to adhere to the accessibility requirements as part of following US legislation, thus these all became part of the built-in features, when sold within Australia. An example of this is the built-in voice reader. This accessibility feature was built into the device from the 2000s, because in 1998, it was implemented within the legislation. Therefore, the US could not sell devices that did not possess accessibility features, as that would mean they did not comply with the accessibility requirements. This is why Australia’s products now have these accessibility features built into .