Accessibility guidelines

Many guides and resources on accessibility are available. The main standards that should guide your work are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and the inclusive publishing approach.

This section covers:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organisation for the internet. It has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which have become an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard for making web content more accessible.

The guidelines apply to websites and to any file (eg PDF, Microsoft Word, video) placed on websites (see the WCAG 2.1 and Web Accessibility Initiative websites). Public websites managed by Australian Government departments and their agencies, universities, and other educational institutions apply WCAG.

WCAG defines accessible content as follows:

  • Perceivable. The information and user interface components must be presented to users in ways they can engage with through at least 1 of their senses. For users with visual impairment, the content must be available through braille or voice recordings. Nontext content (such as images and graphics) must be described by machine-readable text alternatives.

  • Operable. Users must be able to operate the website’s user interface and navigate through its structure. The structure should be logical and intuitive, with functionalities in predictable places for those with limited vision or cognitive capacity. Navigation must not require an action that the user cannot perform, or manual dexterity beyond the abilities of a person with limited hand–eye motor control.

  • Understandable. Users must be able to understand the content. This means that it must be clearly written without complex language for mixed audiences. It must anticipate lower levels of literacy in those with cognitive disability, or with limited educational, social or linguistic resources.

  • Robust. The content must be reliably delivered by a wide variety of user devices and systems, and in formats that can be interpreted accurately by all the standard browsers and assistive technologies, whether on computer or mobile device screens.

WCAG has 3 standards of conformance: A, AA and AAA. Each is progressively more stringent in its requirements and includes the criteria of the lower level. In WCAG 2.1 (the latest version, released in 2018):

  • A represents the baseline standard, providing some basic features to facilitate accessibility

  • AA provides a higher level of accessibility, and is generally adequate for most users and compatible with most assistive technologies – this is the standard targeted by Australian Government websites, and their departments and agencies

  • AAA provides accessibility for the widest range of individuals with disability – this standard is important for websites designed specifically for people with disability (eg a website for users who are hearing impaired or vision impaired).

The accessibility level you target for your content will depend on your organisation and your audience. The higher standards are more time consuming and restrictive for design and content, but will be of most benefit for audiences who need accessible content.

Return to top

Inclusive publishing

Making content accessible is sometimes described as ‘inclusive publishing’. Inclusive publishing aims to tackle the specific issues in accessing information for readers with print disabilities. These are defined by the Australian Inclusive Publishing Initiative as ‘any visual, perceptual or physical condition that creates an inability to read, or a difficulty in reading, printed material’ (Inclusive publishing in Australia, 2019), including:

  • low vision

  • colourblindness 

  • increased sensitivity to excessive brightness of colours

  • age-related vision problems

  • conditions that make it difficult to hold a book or turn pages (eg arthritis, multiple sclerosis, neuromuscular disorders)

  • physical disabilities or injuries that limit finger dexterity or mobility

  • perceptual disabilities (eg dyslexia) 

  • temporary disabilities (eg eye infection, broken arm, ‘situational’ disability such as low light)

  • not being a ‘visual’ learner

  • low literacy or learning difficulties

  • first language other than English.

Preparing electronic content for full access by those with print disabilities involves attention to 3 aspects: 

  • Medium. Inclusive design is flexible in its presentation of content to take advantage of the multimedia possibilities of electronic publication. For example, information can be presented in both visual (text, graphics, video) and audio (sound file) formats, with support from captions and audio descriptions.

  • Content. Inclusive publications contain responsive content that can be interpreted by assistive technologies. This means, for example, avoiding purely visual references (eg the table on the right, above/below) that have traditionally been associated with print layouts. Text must be structured and tagged so that a screen reader can read it. Links should make sense as standalone text.

  • Structure. In print documents, formatting helps to mark the structure on every page. For inclusive electronic publications, the structure must also be clearly marked so that assistive technologies can articulate it for users, and help them to navigate the content efficiently. Heading tags should be used to flag content hierarchy and support users in finding their way through. Similarly, tables should be marked up with HTML elements so that their structure can be interpreted properly by screen readers.

Return to top

User login

... or purchase now

An individual subscription is only A$60 per year

Group and student discounts may apply

Australian manual of scientific style Start communicating effectively