Addressing Digital Accessibility: How Australia Can Become a More Digitally Inclusive Nation

By Alice Duthie
on 23 May 2024

Kerry Kingham, CEO of The Chooze Shop, shares how we can all strive to improve digital accessibility.

In a world powered by search engines, websites, social media and generative AI, digital accessibility has become a cornerstone of inclusivity. As the CEO of, a leader in e-commerce for disability and aged care, I recognise the profound impact that digital accessibility has on millions of people worldwide, including the 4.4 million Australians living with a disability. As we approach Global Accessibility Day, now is the perfect opportunity for us as a nation, to consider not just the importance, but the urgency of improving digital accessibility.

Why Should We Care About Global Accessibility Day? 

Simply put, because accessibility matters for everyone. Accessibility reflects the fundamental Australian values of inclusivity and equality and should be a guiding principle at all times. This goes for both physical spaces and digital ones. While addressing physical barriers should always be a focus, it’s important to remember that there are many other barriers to inclusion which fall under the accessibility banner, including digital access and inclusion.

Digital barriers often go unnoticed, yet they critically hinder the ability for many to participate fully in society. For example, someone with impaired vision might need to use a braille display, screen magnifier or screen reader, software that helps users read out content and navigate websites. Those with motor difficulties might use a special mouse, speech recognition software or on-screen keyboard emulator to help them surf the web. 

With more than one billion people around the world living with a disability, we need to make an active effort to ensure our digital spaces are inclusive of everyone. Especially if these spaces are intended for people with disabilities. For example, if a website aimed at assisting people with vision impairment has low colour contrast, the site may be too difficult to read and as a result, miss reaching its target audience.

person using laptop Digital Accessibility

WCAG: The Gold Standard for Website Accessibility

One of the benchmarks for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the main international standards organisation for the Internet.

Every year, WebAIM runs an automated accessibility evaluation for one million website home pages, which benchmarks web pages against these requirements. In 2024, 56,791,260 distinct accessibility errors were detected, with an average of 56.8 errors per page. The number of detected errors has increased by 13.6% since 2023, which found just 50 errors per page. 

More alarmingly, the three most common failures detected were low contrast of text (84%), missing alternative text for images (55%) and links that did not work (50%). All of these issues are relatively straightforward to fix, indicating either widespread ignorance of their significance, or a concerning disregard for their impact.

Tips for Making Web Content More Accessible

If you’re looking to improve digital accessibility for your website, here are some key focus areas based on WCAG guidelines:

1. Provide Text Alternatives: All images, videos and other non-text content on digital platforms should have a text alternative (alt text) containing meaningful descriptions of imagery to aid those using screen readers.

2. Make Navigation Keyboard-Friendly: Ensure websites are navigable through keyboard-only inputs, not just a mouse or touch screen. This includes the ability to navigate menus, interact with forms and trigger buttons or links. This is crucial for users with motor disabilities or those using screen readers.

3. Offer Sufficient Contrast: Implement high contrast between text colours and background colours to improve readability for users with low vision or colour blindness. WCAG guidelines recommend a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.

4. Make Videos and Multimedia Accessible: Provide closed captions for all multimedia content and videos to support users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Offer transcripts and audio descriptions to enhance accessibility for users who are blind or have cognitive impairments.

5. Ensure Content is Clear and Predictable: Use clear language and avoid idioms, jargon and complex sentences. Ensure web pages operate in predictable ways and instructions are straightforward. Clearly label elements and provide error messages and instructions to make forms and other interactive elements accessible.

By focusing on these elements, developers and content creators can make significant strides in enhancing the accessibility of their websites, ensuring everyone, regardless of their abilities, can navigate, understand and interact with digital content more effectively.

digital accessibility video edit

Digital Literacy as a Barrier to Accessibility

In addition to web accessibility, digital literacy plays a pivotal role in shaping how inclusive our digital world can be. Those who are older, or have disabilities, often have difficulties in navigating the digital platforms which many of us take for granted. 

The Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII), provides a comprehensive look at digital inclusion across the nation, measuring access, affordability and digital ability. The ADII has consistently shown that while Australia’s overall digital inclusion is improving, significant gaps remain, particularly among certain demographics. 

Older Australians

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates that older Australians, aged 65 and over, are much less likely to be internet users compared to the high usage rates among younger demographics. This points to a digital divide based on age and presents a significant barrier when accessing digital information, services and social connections.

Lower Socioeconomic Status

Socio-economic factors play a significant role in digital literacy and inclusion. ADI reports suggest that households in lower income brackets have lower levels of internet access compared to those in higher income brackets, impacting educational and employment opportunities.

Rural and Remote Communities 

Australians living in rural and remote areas also face challenges in digital literacy due to issues such as lower-quality internet service and limited access to digital education and support services. This geographical divide affects not only individual capabilities in using online services, but also impacts the prosperity of businesses and the delivery of key services in these areas.

First Nations Peoples

The most recent ADI report indicated growing attention to the digital divide experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There are an increasing number of initiatives to not only improve access and affordability of digital access for these communities, but to grow the number of culturally appropriate digital content and services.

The Importance of Education and Skills Development

While the importance of digital literacy in education has been increasingly recognised, ensuring all students have the skills and access to technology remains a challenge. Australian schools must continue to incorporate digital technologies into the curriculum and invest in continuous professional development for educators in digital technologies to minimise disparities in educational outcomes.

To bridge the gap of these digital divides, Australia needs to adopt targeted policies and programs to address the diverse challenges faced by various Australian demographics so everyone can fully participate in the digital world. Initiatives that improve affordability, access and digital skill sets, particularly for vulnerable and underrepresented groups, are crucial steps toward a more digitally inclusive society.

Digital Accessibility

The Key to Accessibility: Embracing Universal Design Principles 

Of all the frameworks and guidelines, one standout strategy for enhancing accessibility across diverse groups, including people with disabilities, those for whom English is a second language and ageing populations, is implementing Universal Design Principles.

Relevant to both physical and digital spaces, Universal Design involves creating products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. Here’s why it’s so important:

Inclusivity at the Core: Universal Design takes into account the full spectrum of human diversity, including physical, sensory, cognitive abilities, as well as cultural and linguistic differences. This approach ensures that from the outset, environments and digital platforms are accessible to a broader audience.

Economic Efficiency: It is often more cost-effective to design for accessibility from the beginning, rather than retrofitting spaces and digital platforms to meet accessibility standards later.

Enhanced User Experience: While aimed at supporting those with disabilities and other diverse needs, Universal Design often results in improvements that benefit all users. For example, ramp access is not only vital for wheelchair users but also helpful for parents with strollers, or individuals with temporary injuries.

Social Inclusion: By removing barriers and creating spaces that are welcoming and accessible to all, Universal Design helps foster a sense of belonging and participation for individuals who might otherwise feel excluded.

Adaptability to Emerging Technologies: Universal Design principles encourage adaptability, meaning that as new technologies emerge, especially in the digital realm, platforms can more easily evolve to remain accessible to users with varying needs.

By prioritising Universal Design, organisations can make a significant and lasting impact on accessibility, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of age, disability or language proficiency, have equitable access to, and can fully participate in, both public and private life. This holistic approach not only meets legal and ethical obligations, but also aligns with broader societal goals of inclusivity and equality.

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