Govt Not Complying With Its Own Web Standards

By Stephen Bell | Wellington | Wednesday, 19 December, 2012 |

Not one government website complies fully with web standards laid down by the government itself in 2003, says a monitoring report released this month on New Zealand’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

The report, by a monitoring group drawn from the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman’s office and the New Zealand Convention Coalition, bases its statement on self-assessments by government organisations in 2011. “It is mandatory for all public sector departments, the New Zealand Police, the New Zealand Defence Force, the Parliamentary Counsel Office and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to be compliant with the standards,” the report says.

The Department of Internal Affairs acknowledges that there are “gaps” in agencies’ attainment of the “success criteria” specified in the standards, which are based on the international Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. However, not all these relate to usability and disability access, spokesman Simon Pleasants says. “Instances of non-compliance are also common around the more highly detailed and prescribed policy-related requirements for privacy statements, disclaimers, copyright notices, terms of use, macrons and the like.”

However, work is in train at DIA both to implement changes to the web standards in consultation with stakeholders and to provide guidance and education for agencies in reaching full compliance, he says.

Sources close to the compilers of the report acknowledge that compliance may have improved since the self-assessments were done, but express regret that there is no systematic process for surveying websites from a neutral and consistent standpoint; the only instruments are self-assessment or random encounter with non-compliant websites, followed by one-off fixes, says one source, who declines to be named.

The web standards are not aimed solely at easing use for disabled people; they also aim at making essential public-information sites more usable for the population at large.

“The main factor contributing to non-compliance is variability in agency and vendor knowledge and skill around the Government Web Standards, in particular web accessibility,” DIA’s Pleasants says. He points out that while compliance for the agencies listed is mandatory, the Cabinet Minute of 2003 specifying this “allows agencies to balance the needs of stakeholders against fiscal responsibilities.

“DIA will soon (within weeks) consult stakeholders on proposed changes to the web standards,” he says. “Stakeholders will include representatives of disability communities and organisations, government agencies, and external vendors.

“The consultation aims to help:

  • prioritise the concerns of disability communities
  • reduce implementation costs, thereby making overall compliance easier
  • help agencies improve delivery of accessible online content and services over time.”

This research will inform the next version of the web standards, he says. “These will be complete by mid-2013. After that, DIA will work with the Web Standards Working Group to deliver additional guidance and education for agencies.”

A separate report, published by the Human Rights Commission in October, entitled Better Information for Everyone, recommends mandatory compliance be widened to Crown entities including district health boards, territorial local authorities and schools.

The monitoring group is due to report back to the UN on New Zealand’s compliance with the convention by the end of 2014.

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