Royal Society for the Blind SA and Digital Citizen Services discuss accessibility.sa.gov.au.

Read time: 20 minutes

FIVEaa Adelaide with Alan Hickey

Tony Starkey, Policy, Accessibility and Client Consultation at Royal Society for the Blind (SA) and Nick Condon, Head of Digital Citizen Services, Department of the Premier and Cabinet discuss the South Australian Government's new online accessibility policy and toolkit (accessibility.sa.gov.au) launched for 2019 Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

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In Adelaide and across South Australia, this is Alan Hickey. Scraped your caravan? Walker Crash Caravan Repairs, easy insurance repairs: fast.

Alan Hickey

Just coming up 26 minutes away from 2PM, time to talk about the state of our state. And as we become more reliant on technology there's a risk that people with disabilities can get left behind, isn't there? Well, in an effort to prevent that happening, the state government has overhauled it's online presence to ensure that it remains accessible to everyone and the bloke in charge of that project, boy, I don't know what his blood pressure must be like taking it on. He's Nick Condon, he's the head of digital services. How are you, Nick?

Nick Condon

Really well, thanks for having us.

Alan Hickey

How is the blood pressure?

Nick Condon

It's been sitting 130/80 at the moment

Alan Hickey

Good, good because this is a big gig, isn't it? This is a big task?

Nick Condon

Yeah, absolutely. I mean at the end of the day the whole world is moving online, you're ordering food, you're getting your travel done there and of course government services are online. And I think the thing that we've really honed in on is the fact that whilst lots of people have got choice in lots of different web services, when it comes to government you haven't got a lot of choice. You need to make sure those services are there and they're accessible and consumable for everybody.

Alan Hickey

Also with us is a bloke who bring first hand experience to the challenges faced by people with a disability, Tony Starkey is a good mate of ours from the Royal Society For The Blind and he's legally blind, so he's well placed to give us some advice on this. How are you, Tony?

Tony Starkey

Good, thank you Alan.

Alan Hickey

Thanks for coming in. Now, again this must be a very, very frustrating area for someone with a disability like yourself. But are we actually mounting the curb so to speak and getting on top of things?

Tony Starkey

I think we've come a long way, I mean access to information has always been the biggest barrier to us. It's about knowing what you obviously can't read anymore and so forth. And so since the Internet's came along, I mean there's probably less than 5% of the books in the world are still inaccessible to people who are blind or vision impaired so it's still very much a print thing. However, with different initiatives, a publishing initiative which we're running with the Australian Publishers, what Nick's doing with the government websites. I mean to have a government website accessible and to go online and not get frustrated is like a dream. I think there's about 140 odd government websites just in South Australia, so most people will go online, try to do it with their screen reader or magnifier and it's either illogical or just won't access things such as PDF (Portable Document Format) documentation if it's formatted incorrectly and so forth.

Tony Starkey

So there's been an ongoing battle for about 15-20 years, this is the first time it's been endorsed by the, I suppose if you think about it from a top down approach, so the Premier's Department is the one that's driving the issue and it's probably coincidental that online is becoming issue as well. But also people are adopting what we call universal design, design designed at access at design time and things like that. So it's the built environment, it's access to information, it's a lot. All areas of life.

Alan Hickey

So, Nick, how have you approached this? What have you done? You've taken a website, how do you actually rebuild that website? Because that's what you've needed to do, isn't it?

Nick Condon

Yeah, it's a really good point and so there's two parts in this. I guess the first part is looking at the existing websites, understanding and talking to the people who need to use those websites. Where are the challenges? What are they trying to do? Actually being in their environment, understanding what devices they're accessing on, looking at the kind of information they're getting and really understanding and that kind of real citizen centric piece, what are the challenges? What are the things we need to fix?

Nick Condon

From there, it's actually a broad consultation because you've got to remember one in five people have some kind of disability across Australia. So there's a range of disabilities and a scale of those disabilities as well, so being really consultative and co designing the policy, coming up with the toolkit which is effectively a public piece. Government have said, "We need to make sure that not just government websites but we've got a real leadership piece here to make sure local government sites, non for profit sites and all of those businesses across South Australia know what best practice is when it comes to making sure people like Tony can jump online and use a website." So-

Alan Hickey

And we're not just talking about sight impairment here though, are we? We're talking about a range.

Nick Condon

Absolutely. So accessibility is something that we look at a lot broader than just visual impairments, that's a huge piece and when it comes to being able to read online with some of those accessibility tools, it's a huge help. But equally so you're looking at things like digital inclusion, making sure that people who are using digital tools can understand, there's also a piece around digital literacy. We take for granted sometimes if we can use about website well or us the internet well that we think that everybody can. But it's actually the other way. Equally so the kind of devices people use, not everyone has the latest iPhone whatever it's going to be.

Nick Condon

And finally the last piece of this is also the internet speeds, not everybody has a lightning speed so we need to make sure that when we're doing these services we're considering not just those from a visual impairment, but also the kind of devices they'll be on, the internet speeds and the kind of language we use to make sometimes government jargon a little bit more consumable as well.

Alan Hickey

How far down the path are we? How far along?

Nick Condon

Yeah, so I mean when you look at SA.GOV.AU now that's the government's major website, over 10 million people using that website in some capacity every single year, that website's already been meeting the accessibility standards for many, many years. And there's lots of government websites that are also meeting those standards. I think what we're really trying to say here is that as things move more and more online we need to put some real rigor around what exactly those standards are and more to that as people recreate new digital things. And we're not just talking websites, it could be mobile phone apps, it could be the kind of information that Tony's talking around, it might be in a PDF (Portable Document Format) at the moment but actually we want to move that into a consumable format. So it's going breadth but it's also going depth when it comes to considering what citizens needs are from an accessibility perspective.

Alan Hickey

Happy to take your calls on this if you've got an questions or comments, 82230000. Faye's called in from Wynn's Gardens. Hi, Faye.

Faye [caller]

Hi boys, how you going?

Alan Hickey

We're good.

Faye

Hi Tony.

Tony Starkey

Hi Faye.

Faye

You used to work with me, how you going these days?

Tony Starkey

Good thanks.

Faye

I just wanted to talk about the accessibility as well and I'm trying to get my church's monthly magazine and newsletter online. But, at the moment they haven't been able to. Either they're not going to do it or something. What can I do to be able to ... With things fast moving online, I know everybody has their preferences and how can I take it with them? Even if it's means going back to them again, which I have to in any case but how can I get encouragement to want to change it online for people like us with having a vision impairment as you and I have had for a long time?

Alan Hickey

Good question, Faye, good question.

Tony Starkey

I think there's two ways I'd address that, Faye, is one is that they can email you to it in an accessible document, so a Word or Rich text or even an accessible PDF (Portable Document Format) so that you can read it with an email. The other is if they do have a website, well there's no reason they can't utilise these tools that the government's now made available. I mean they're very easy to use tools and also the policies quite easy to read and follow. I think they should be able to, even an amateur or a hobbyist could follow it and make an accessible website to give you that answer.

Alan Hickey

So keep on pushing, Faye, I think would be the advice there. Nick, what are some of the tools that you have developed that Tony was just referring to?

Nick Condon

Yeah, absolutely. So look, if you go to accessibility.sa.gov.au Faye is a great example of why this toolkit has been created. Because accessibility is something that has quite a lot of complexity to it to create. But what we've tried to do is create some tools that are those best practice checklists, to do lists, guidelines that you can take and say, "Right, when it comes to the colors on my website." And you think around people who may have some kind of color blindness, using contrasting colors, colors that could be very similar together make it really hard for people to see the difference between text and background and so we give some guidelines there around what are those best colors that you can use to make sure that people who might be color blind can see a site.

There's a whole piece on this toolkit around plain English. And the term there is ... I mean you see lots and lots of acronyms and lots and lots of three letter words with little yeah acronyms as part of them. There's a real call for getting just plain English back into the way we write websites.

Alan Hickey

Hear, hear!

Nick Condon

Pull the jargon out and just if you're trying to say something, let's not use the jargon that only 4% of people who use it on a day to day basis understand. But just use plain, simple English. It's a really simple way to go. The other thing, and this probably a little more for the propeller heads but when you look at a website, you see the words on that website. Behind that, those words, is a whole bunch of different code. If you're building a new website using the toolkit to get that code in the right order so things like the accessibility screen readers, they actually look for particular words. What's the title? What's the call to action? What's the description? And if you can have those in there and also lots of images on the sight.

Alan Hickey

So you can actually code those words?

Nick Condon

Yeah.

Alan Hickey

So they're picked up by the device?

Nick Condon

Yeah, so you know Tony would be looking at a website and it says, "Today the weather is going to be so and so." And there might be a picture of a sun and it says, "We're showing a picture of the sun." So that Tony, or anybody else who has a visual impairment can actually understand the full experience of that website. And so the government's made all these freely available and purposefully put them out to the public so that businesses, non for profit, anybody who needs those tools can use them freely.

Alan Hickey

Well, at the end of this process, I mean I'll rephrase that because the process will never be ended, will it?

Nick Condon

Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Alan Hickey

Will you be actually setting the bar? Or are we playing catch up?

Nick Condon

Well actually I think we've already set the bar. And there's no arrogance in that, we've made sure that we've been consulting not just locally but we've actually been working with the UK government, the US government and the Canadian government too, all who have said, "This is now the best practice leading tool when it comes to accessibility." So we take that as a real compliment to my teams work and the work that we've been doing within state government.

Nick Condon

But I think it's also a call out for the fact that there are lots of South Australians who need services. And sometimes those services only exist online. For us, we really understand that sometimes it's those who need the services most online that don't necessarily have the accessibility tools to get there. So it's our job and it's the job of anyone who's got a website that wants to make sure those one in five people are actually being able to consume the service as well that they go online and use those tools.

Alan Hickey

Tony, what's been the Royal Society For The Blind's role in this? I imagine you've been playing a fairly important part?

Tony Starkey

Oh yeah, we've, over the many years, we've discussed this with government and so forth. But in the last two years, I suppose, 18 months, two years, we've actually participated in the development of the policy, the use of the words, the language and also the direction of what they take and how they're explained and so forth. So we've been part of the whole thing since it's been going on and since Nick's been at the organisation, we've been moving forward which is good, so it's [inaudible 00:11:40] taking a good leap I suppose of things that we have been not messing around with but trying to get kick started every now and again. So you get it kick started and then it stops, then it stops. But now we've finally got it to the point.

Tony Starkey

So hopefully from now on this will be the lead. And also it would also lead government in the future in other areas such as urban planning, transport, aviation, whatever the topic is there's an issue where we need to be involved is in trying to make it simple, accessible and also easier to use. So whilst you can have a really good website with very accessible, the logical steps that you go through it are not there. So that's what Nick was saying, it's got to be logical and easy to follow and so forth. Because most people will give up after about five clicks.

Alan Hickey

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Guilty, your honor, I think we all are. We're talking about the governments new system of online accessibility. If you've got any questions or comments, give us a call 82230000.

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Alan Hickey

We are talking about digital citizen services and the great work they're doing in South Australia to give people with the disabilities access to the online world which we're becoming more and more dependent on. Nick Condon is with us, he's the head of digital services and we've also got Tony Starkey from the Royal Society Of The Blind with us. One thing that I think it's worth really pointing out is for those people who are not paying attention in this area, they're missing a huge slice of the society. As you say, one in five people is suffering a disability. That's one in five people that they're missing their business.

Nick Condon

Yeah, that's right. If you're a small business I guess you need to consider that one in five people may not be able to actually read your website, understand your products and services and therefore you could be potentially passing on one in five customers to somebody who does.

Tony Starkey

Well, that's also important, particularly for the aging community where their age and blindness is connected. So there's a whole market out there that if you don't make your environment accessible or your information accessible, a lot of people won't be spending their money with you.

Alan Hickey

Now you mentioned also, Tony, during the break, apps. We tend to think, particularly us older folks, we tend to think the app is a completely separate thing to the internet or online. It's not, is it?

Tony Starkey

No, it it's not, it's just another delivery method of providing information and you can do what you can do on a website through your smartphone or you can do with the thing. But I think the app is just more like a functional thing so everything from public transport information to banking, to you name it, ordering your meal there's things there. It's all data accessible and so forth so it's a matter of making sure it's accessible to start with. I use an iPhone which is voice activated out of the box, so that's why the blind tend to lean towards that one a bit more.

Tony Starkey

It's a very accessible thing, however, probably at least half the apps available won't talk to us on the ... Because they haven't been constructed with accessibility built in.

Alan Hickey

Now, that's a classic case of where people are over looking things, isn't it Nick? Those developers not realising?

Nick Condon

Yeah, absolutely and so again I guess one of the considerations we've put into what we're doing, yes, we're always retrofitting government websites so that they do have that accessibility. But if you are designing something you really want to get that accessibility in from the very, very start. You don't want to kind of go halfway down the path and then realize, "Oh well, we have to change that or change particular parts." And so there's a whole part on the accessibility toolkit online which talks around accessibility at design. So you're actually putting those foundations in place and then as you build through the different features and functionality that kind of accessibility that makes Tony's life 10 million times easier, that's already there to start with. Which is hugely beneficial.

Alan Hickey

Absolutely. You mentioned earlier, Nick, not dumbing down but making language a lot more accessible.

Nick Condon

Right.

Alan Hickey

That's such a huge area, isn't it? Because bureaucratic speak can be an absolute nightmare for anyone.

Nick Condon

Yeah and look to be honest it's not even just government.

Alan Hickey

No, it's not.

Nick Condon

If you're insurance services, if you're booking something online from a travel site or particular acronyms that exist. Not everybody understands the words that are in your particular industry that you're working in day to day and so one of the things the government's really focusing on now is this citizen centered design. Actually putting the wording and getting the framing right from that citizens perspective and sometimes that means plain English by default. Getting those real simple words in place as opposed to saying, "We're going to put in some Scrum 2.4 blah-blah-blah." You're actually just saying, you're going to book a holiday, or you're going to be doing ... It's really important to get that right, because I think you know what we're trying to say here is that not all South Australians have the same level of fundamental digital accessibility, they don't have the same level of digital inclusion or literacy.

Nick Condon

But equally so, standard literacy is something that we need to be considering as well. And making sure that that wording is really accessible for those that have got really, really great reading and writing skills, but equally so for those who may be have some need there as well.

Alan Hickey

Look, I'll just give you a personal example of when the new regulations over micro chipping and registering your pets came online and we had to enter our new details, we had to re-register our pets effectively, remember that? Was last year sometime. I tell you what, it took me an hour to do that and I'm sort of reasonably okay. But it was so complicated. I had to copy stuff and send it in, I was thinking, "Well, you know if I was living on my own, an elderly person, there's no way I'd be able to get through this."

Nick Condon

Right. And so I think one of the things we want to do here is make those services more accessible. But also where we can, let's actually make them easier as well. Coming online to use a tool actually we should be able to make those steps more simple, clearly explained and really help people get away from some of those jargon pieces.

Alan Hickey

What sort of system are you using? Are you developing an approach and then sending it out to people like the Royal Society For The Blind? And getting them to test it?

Nick Condon

Yeah. Well it's actually, it's almost a full loop. So we've engaged people like Vision Australia, Royal Society For The Blind, also Blind Citizens Australia. And actually getting them at the start of the process, but once we've built that, this incremental loop of, "All right, well here's what we said, let's go and test that. Is it working? Yes, we can tweak that a little bit, let's refine that." Come around and go again. But we've been working on this toolkit and the policy for about 12 months and so at the point we're at now we've gone through a range of loops, we put out a broad consultation, 100 different pieces of information came back around, "Hey, have have you considered this? This might need a bit of refinement." So at the point we're at now, we feel that we've got a really, really great policy to launch.

Nick Condon

But as you mentioned before, it doesn't kind of stop here. There will be new technologies coming through, things will evolve and change and so it's government's responsibility to take a leadership position and be constantly evolving that policy and that toolkit along with technology's evolution.

Alan Hickey

Absolutely. Jason has called from Salisbury East, Hi, Jason.

Jason [caller]

Hey Guys, how're things?

Alan Hickey

Good.

Jason

One thing that needs to be taken into account is these damn CAPTCHA that you have to do, you know make sure you're not a robot who's accessing the website sometime?

Alan Hickey

Yeah.

Jason

Because they give you like a audio CAPTCHA and you think, "What the hell are you saying?" They're very hard to understand.

Nick Condon

Yeah, look I get exactly what you're saying there Jason. CAPTCHA are a really interesting piece to make sure, because again on the flip side of accessibility is the fact that there's lots and lots of tools on the web that are people going through and getting computers to do blast sends onto emails or blast sends onto websites. And so these CAPTCHA tools where you've got to fill in some details to prove you're not a robot really do put a lot of those other robot pieces to stop. But it does, like you say, cause a big problem from an accessibility point.

Jason

Yeah, I know, they give you like an audio one and you've just really got to try and what on earth is it saying? Because like, "One, two." The way they talk and that sort of thing, you know what I mean?

Nick Condon

They've released CAPTCHA two, so the second version of that. And again a lot of these services are really aware of the fact that accessibility needs to be considered. The latest version they've put out has got a lot more rigor around how actually they can have those words like you say, easier to hear, but also making sure that there's more accessibility options there when it comes to CAPTCHA.

Alan Hickey

Thanks Tony, Jason, a good point. Well, thank you gentlemen and good luck with it. Congratulations, you've covered an awful lot of territory in 12 months for sure.

Nick Condon

Thanks very much.

Alan Hickey

And as you say setting the bar. Now, for more information so you want the online accessibility policy and toolkit go to accessibility that's a one word; accessibility.sa.gov.au and the whole toolkit is on there.

Nick Condon

It is indeed.

Alan Hickey

Fantastic, thank you very much ...

Tony Starkey

Oh, thank you.

Alan Hickey

... Nick Condon and also Tony Starkey for your time today.

End transcript