Getting accessibility right — 5 practical steps you can take
Content should be accessible for all users, regardless of their ability. Making sure your online content is accessible can be an overwhelming task. Here are 5 steps you can take to ensure accessibility becomes second nature in your team.
Ensuring everyone has equal access and opportunity to receive our message, regardless of their abilities is essential. We want all people to contribute actively in society. It’s also important to avoid breaches of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. In Victoria, the minimum requirement for content is WCAG 2.0 AA.
Working in government, one of the most common ways we fail in accessibility is with our publications.
As an online editor, I’ve struggled to keep up with the debate around the best format for documents. Is it Word or is it PDF? But the answer is simple. HTML is a ‘sure thing’ for getting accessibility right.
The reality is making Word or PDFs accessible is hard work. It also costs precious time and money.
In government, we traditionally produce a policy, strategy or plan and get our graphic designer to create a version for a glossy print-run. The document is usually held-up by a minister at a launch to show how committed we are to improving the lives of Victorians.
Our research showed us that our usual approaches to publications were inaccessible and made it hard for users to find and navigate content. So we had to rethink our approach.
While migrating content from the old vic.gov.au to the new vic.gov.au website, we discovered an enormous amount of publications — more than 2800 publications on 27 government sites.
The volume of publications meant we had to draw a line in the sand. So we only created HTML versions of documents that were still in use.
But what about making the old Word or PDF documents accessible? In most cases, they weren’t getting much use and were no longer relevant for our users. So we didn’t invest time in converting them to HTML. In fact, we got rid of many of them.
The process for creating change
With so many producers of content out there, how might we create real change for any future government publications? Sharing the problem and the solution is a good place to start. We’ve been doing this through pair writing.
During pair writing sessions, you build a fantastic relationship with subject matter experts. You get to immerse yourself in their world and what they’re trying to achieve for Victoria.
I recently worked with the Office of the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor to migrate their content onto their new website: https://fvrim.vic.gov.au.
To coincide with their new website, they also launched the Monitor’s second report.
The report comments on how effective the Victorian Government and its agencies have been in implementing family violence reform.
The key takeaway from the content experience was that if we know about a large document coming out, we can plan for it to be HTML.
5 steps to convert long documents into HTML
Step 1: Find out what’s on the horizon for your team
I’d been working with the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor over the past 6 months. They flagged that the Monitor’s 60-page report was being drafted and they wanted to ensure the report was accessible. They expressed that, ‘it’s an important message that needs to reach all of our audiences.’
So, 2 weeks out from the launch date we began drafting the HTML version of the report in the Content Management System (CMS), in readiness for go-live. It took around 2 working days in total to recreate the 60-page publication as HTML.
Step 2: Start with some quick wins
It was time to begin. We spent a little time panicking … How was the document going to work online? What about the footnotes? And what about the massive table? Once we overcame a little analysis paralysis, we jumped in and made a start.
We then focused on just getting the content into the CMS in a clean format and adding key heading styles and paragraph breaks. The publication started to take shape.
Step 3: Come back to the hard stuff
We came back and added the infographics, figures, tables and decorative images. I recommend adding these assets after you’ve added the paragraph content. You don’t want to rush through your alt text. Make sure it effectively conveys what’s in the image, be specific and keep it short.
Step 4: Check and double check
We’d been looking at the HTML version of the report for a while and were starting to miss some obvious errors. So we cross checked the document together. We also had other people review the document to ensure we hadn’t missed anything.
Step 5: Done is better than perfect. Things we could do better for next time.
While we were happy with our efforts, there was a timeline in Figure 2A which we didn’t make accessible. The linear graphic and associated text meant it was hard to convert it into an online format. Due to time pressure, we decided to go-live with a PDF of the figure in this case.
The future looks brighter for publications on vic.gov.au
Creating the Monitor’s report in HTML was a workaround while we wait for delivery of the publications template we’re getting from the Single Digital Presence project.
We hope this template will encourage all content creators on our platform to take a digital first approach for any of their publications. If it’s being completed by an external designer, we can even give them access to the CMS to create the HMTL version.
The new template will feature:
- Option to download the entire online version as a PDF.
- Ability to add publisher, copyright and disclaimer information.
- Pagination from one page to the next.
- 3 levels of navigation to help users get around your publication.
- Figures that pull raw data so users can view the information in full screen or download.
We’re already having conversations with other content owners about creating digital first publications, some even include data visualisations.
But for people who only have regular website templates — don’t wait for a technical solution that may never arrive. My experience has been that building a relationship with your content owners and approaching them when the time is right is more important in creating better accessibility than any tech solution.
Tools and support make a difference, too
We’ve provided access to the Monsido platform for our content owners, so they can monitor accessibility.
We’ve also established a community of practice that meets monthly to provide support for maintaining content best practice.