In my last job, the term WCAG was carried around like the winning tennis ball balancing precariously on a triumphant racquet; a goal post for us all to strive for, with a team sometimes interested in having a beer. Like any unfamiliar acronym, it was initially such a daunting mystery and felt like expertise reserved only for the few. Something to bluff your way through and find a quick win to satisfy the criteria.

Until one day the penny dropped that if I didn’t learn about WCAG quickly and fully, my whole working life would be in jeopardy and a whole population would be excluded from studying careers they want to pursue and getting jobs they want to have. It was time to get savvy.

WCAG is the global Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, published by the W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium. The Guidelines are up to version 2.0, and the AA standard is the vision for UTS.

The guidelines are relevant to our new public website, Staff Connect, Neo, Blackboard, Canvas, and external sites we use to do our jobs and teach our students, including all of the content we place on these platforms.

What does WCAG say?

There are four pillars to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – they build another acronym, P.O.U.R. Websites must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

If websites are not perceivable, operable, understandable and robust, it means that we are forgetting about staff and students who use screen readers, screen magnifiers, speech recognition software, captions, audio description, audio-visual transcripts, inbuilt accessibility software, and people who come from diverse backgrounds and different ways of thinking where getting clear information is an access requirement.

How do we implement P.O.U.R?

Implementing P.O.U.R. is as easy as pouring your cup of coffee in the morning, when we brave the fear around it and get our heads around what to look out for.

Perceivable – users must be able to perceive the information being presented

  • Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language
  • Provide alternatives for time-based media
  • Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure
  • Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background

Operable – users must be able to interact with your website

  • Make all functionality available from a keyboard
  • Provide users enough time to read and use content
  • Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures
  • Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are

Understandable – the content or operation of your website cannot be beyond the understanding of the user

  • Make text content readable and understandable
  • Make web pages appear and operate in predictable ways
  • Help users avoid and correct mistakes

Robust – users with a wide variety of assistive technologies must be able to use your site now, and in the future as technologies evolve.

  • Maximise compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies

Want to see this information made real in a music video?

Actually Awesome

The AA standards that UTS has committed to, means that when we place publicly available information out into the world, it needs to be accessible. This is why we talk a lot about captions and audio description at UTS, particularly as we move towards much more video content in our learning spaces.

What is also actually awesome is that in 2017 digital access was further progressed through the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017. We now have updated and simplified copyright licences that allow universities and educational institutions to use copyright material in return for payments to rights holders, and for the purposes of accessibility for people who need information in electronic formats rather than hard copy print material.

And hey, we also have a professional development opportunity at UTS right at our doorstep.

The A11y camp and hands-on workshop are on 13 and 14 September, at Aerial Function Centre. This event is all about creating a digital world with no barriers.

And two great training opportunities are to join the A11y meet up group and enrol for the internationally recognised PCWA online course in web accessibility, which starts on 18 September.

Digital access is everyone’s responsibility.

Hot tips for the everyday

  • Download the colour contrast analyser from Vision Australia to see if the colours you are using in your online course content, events promotions or data visualisation are accessible
  • Increase the amount of time you allow for people to fill out an online forms (WCAG section 2.2.1) – why not put twenty hours instead of eight minutes? It may just benefit more people than you think
  • Ensure that the UTS office photocopier OCR scanning settings are not set to compact (300dpi) when scanning documents, to make accessible PDFs
  • Incorporate captions and transcripts for videos and audio – making verbal and sound information, visual for people who need it
  • Incorporate audio description – making all visual information within media verbal, such as data visualisations, business logos, and text on screen such as movie credits and name and job titles
  • Turn images into text by placing alt text in your documents
  • Ensure the metadata is correct when you create a website, so that screen readers know in what order to read information down the page
  • Adhere to all of the above for social media content – include a sentence to describe the image you are posting within your post, and place captions on your videos

Feature image credit: Štefan Štefančík

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