Digital agencies: what does accessibility mean for your clients?

  • Author: Sarah Pulis
  • Date: 27 Nov 2012

Do you know what web accessibility is? Can your agency create digital experiences that are accessible?

If your answer is 'no' to either of these questions, you could be at risk of losing current clients, jeopardising your chances of securing new clients, or even leaving yourself open to litigation.

With one in five Australian having a disability, some of whom find it difficult to access web content due to poor design and coding, plus an ageing population, government agencies and corporates are increasingly including accessibility as a requirement in their requests for tenders.

Here are some facts about web accessibility in Australia:

  • Australian Government websites are mandated to meet international web accessibility standards Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)
  • The ability to access online information irrespective of ability is the law (Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth))
  • The National Transition Strategy requires all Federal, State and Territory government websites to meet WCAG 2.0 Level A by the end of 2012, and all Federal government websites to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA by the end of 2014. Some States and Territories are also meeting the latter requirement.

Benefits to your business

There are huge benefits to those organisations that can successfully master the delivery of accessibility requirements in their digital projects.

Work with government

Governments are mandated to meet web accessibility requirements. If you have existing government clients or are sourcing new ones, you will need to prove that you understand the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, and can build accessible websites or create accessible web content to secure government contracts.

In our experience, the number of digital agencies that are capable of delivering accessible digital projects is small. Government departments are looking outside the approved supplier list simply because there few suppliers on the list that can meet their accessibility requirements. So new opportunities are appearing, you just have to have the right skills to harness them.

Reduce the risk of litigation

Bidding on government projects and not delivering a product that meets the accessibility requirements is fraught with danger, and leaves your organisation open to litigation from the client or end user.

Government departments vary in their understanding of accessibility requirements, and there will be situations where the departments will place responsibility for accessibility squarely on your shoulders.

Being able to access information and online services through the web irrespective of ability is the law covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth). Anyone who feels they are being discriminated against can submit a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission. If that complaint cannot be resolved via mediation, the complainant can take the organisation responsible for the discrimination to court.

The National Transition Strategy has increased the expectations of consumers with disabilities. When the first deadline at the end of this year hits, we fully expect consumer groups to start contacting organisations about inaccessible websites, and if this is not resolved satisfactorily, then filing complaints with the Australian Human Right's Commission will follow.

Secure more business

It's not only government who are requesting accessible products and services from digital agencies. Commercial organisations, such as financial institutions and telecommunications providers, are increasingly including web accessibility as a requirement.

Organisations with strong corporate social responsibility will often include access to online content and services as a requirement for all their online products. Other organisations will include accessibility out of fear of litigation and bad press.

Whatever the motivation, you will need to have the skills to meet this requirement and secure more business.

Be recognised as a leader in accessibility

One of the biggest criticisms of accessibility by digital agencies is that it stifles design and creativity. The reality is that design and creativity is only limited by your knowledge when it comes to accessibility. New technologies including HTML5, CSS3 and WAI-ARIA have features that enable accessible and dynamic content.

Because the number of agencies that can deliver accessible digital experiences is small, hero websites that demonstrate innovation and creativity alongside accessibility best practice are widely publicised and applauded.

Designing and developing web content that is engaging and accessible is the ultimate challenge. The more you are recognised for your advances and thought leadership in this area, the more business you will get.

Accessibility in practice

Understanding the implications of accessibility requirements on your project, best practices for ensuring your projects meet WGAG 2.0 and ways to increase your agency's share of government wallet.

Understand your client's needs

When you receive a brief, all that is likely to be included about accessibility is "must be WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant". You need to fully understand what the implications of this one-line requirement are on your project timeline and budget.

It all comes down to understanding the scope and complexities that come with accessibility. A simple website with no dynamic content, no multimedia and little complexity shouldn't require a lot of extra development to be made accessible.

However, a website that is media-rich with dynamic content and that processes transactions is likely to require extra development and testing. It may also require the use of accessibility-specific coding languages such as WAI-ARIA to ensure the content is accessible.

You client generally won't understand the additional time and effort it may take to make a highly complex website accessible. You may need to educate your client, and you might want to offer multiple costings and allow them to make the choice between the Rolls Royce solution and a Hyundai version.

Skills assessment — don't go in unprepared

If a new technology came out that would win you new business, you'd invest time and resources in it, right? Accessibility is no different.

Ensuring your staff has adequate training and on the job experience to meet accessibility requirements is just the same as training a staff member in project management methodologies. It's an investment in your organisation and should be treated that way.

We see a lot of agencies add an 'accessibility fee' as an extra line item within the project budget. This fee is not for extra user testing or an expert accessibility audit, it is simply an additional cost for fixing accessibility issues.

If you understand accessibility requirements and address these requirements as part of the project lifecycle, then any issues identified by an expert accessibility evaluation should be treated the same as issues identified though user acceptance testing (UAT).

If you are serious about winning new contracts that include accessibility, we recommend absorbing the additional costs associated with learning so that you remain competitive and gain experience.

Accessibility and the project lifecycle

Integrate accessibility principles into your web development lifecycle and you'll be ahead of the game. Learn to apply this seamlessly and you'll have a unique selling proposition: your projects will enable the 20 per cent of Australians who are excluded from most websites to participate in the digital experiences you've created.

Accessibility in practice is not going to work if the responsibility rests solely with one person in a single part of the project lifecycle, such as development. Embedding accessibility into all stages of your project and assigning responsibilities appropriately will reduce the time and cost associated with accessibility.

For example, one of the accessibility requirements is colour contrast. If there isn't enough contrast between the colour of the text and its background, people who are colour blind, vision impaired or have age-related impairments often struggle to read this text.

Colour contrast can and should be addressed in the design phase. This includes not only the contrast between text and background but also the contrast for rollover states and even the colours used in password strength meters where colour alone may not be sufficient for communicating information to someone who can't see colour.

Getting this right at the design stage means there should be no redevelopment.


Be aware that winning more government business comes with a requirement to understand web accessibility. There are some outstanding opportunities to build a favourable reputation for your agency based on your ability to interpret client requirements into accessible digital experiences. It requires an upfront investment in education but that will save your projects from budget blowouts and a long list of fixes.