Effective 01 July 2013, new Government Web Standards replace the New Zealand Government Web Standards 2.0.
Developed in conjunction with disability communities, vendors, and representatives from State Sector organisations, the new Standards not only set clear and common requirements to guide the design and development of quality web content, but they also establish the minimum level of quality that websites are expected to meet in order to better ensure that Government is providing usable, accessible experiences to New Zealanders.
The new Standards have implications for the Government's web presence that are directly aligned with the obligations of the Human Rights Act 1993 and other legislation and policies. The Standards also support the aims and priorities identified in the recently released ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017, and Better Public Services Results 9 and 10.
Two new standards
The new Standards are delivered as two separate standards.
The Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 focuses on accessibility as defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, with some minor exceptions.
The Web Usability Standard 1.0 simplifies the non-accessibility related requirements from the previous NZ Government Web Standards 2.0. It focuses on the most important issues (i.e. contact information, copyright, privacy), and reduces the level of prescriptive detail, thus making them easier to apply and assess.
Why two standards?
Having two separate standards helps to clarify the focus and application of each Standard, while making it easier to update either one as required. Previously, a small change to any aspect of the NZ Government Web Standards 2.0 would have necessitated a new release of the Web Standards as a whole, which is more difficult to manage from an administrative and implementation perspective.
A more practical approach
The new Web Standards acknowledge Government organisations' various resource constraints and are intended to make delivering accessible websites more practical and cost-effective.
For instance, the Web Accessibility Standard 1.0 takes a phased approach that should allow organisations to:
- align their work of complying to the Standard with their website development cycles, and
- prioritise the remediation of high-stakes information and services, e.g. those related to emergency preparedness and response, health and safety, critical citizenship rights, entitlements and services.
The Web Accessibility Standard also adopts a number of temporary exceptions to the way some of the WCAG 2.0 success criteria are applied. For example, organisations will have 10 business days to provide captions for videos that are not delivering high-stakes information or services, as opposed to having to caption them immediately upon publication.
How they were developed
The new Standards are the culmination of work that began in 2011 with Government organisations assessing their compliance with the NZ Government Web Standards 2.0. A total of 42 organisations submitted assessments of 222 websites. Those assessments indicated significant variability in Government organisation's knowledge and skill in both implementing and assessing against the Web Standards.
Also in 2011, three stakeholder groups were surveyed about the Web Standards. The three groups were disability communities, NZ Government web practitioners, and vendors of web design and development services.
Respondents from the disability communities indicated that they expect the same rights of access to online Government information and services as other New Zealanders. They highlighted the special importance of having access to particular types of content, e.g. contact information, online application forms, as well as information related to emergencies, and health and safety. They also noted that certain content formats, i.e. PDF, online forms, and video, affect their access to online information more than others.
A strong majority of Government web practitioners considered accessibility to be important, and expressed a desire for more training to help them improve compliance with the Web Standards.
Vendors acknowledged that most of their Government clients require the websites they deliver to comply with the Web Standards. They noted a number of factors that they felt have a strong effect on the adoption of the Web Standards, i.e. vendor expertise, client demand, cost, time, and client knowledge.
Standards impact assessment framework
In 2011–2012, with the help of Standards New Zealand, a framework was developed for assessing the issue of Web Standards compliance and proposing solutions. The results from the 2011 self-assessments and stakeholder surveys informed this work, which led to the identification of a number of possible actions. These were in turn assessed according to their cost, risk, and impact.
Based on that assessment, a number of revisions to the Web Standards were proposed.
Web Standards consultation
Between December 2012 and February 2013, more than 150 stakeholders were invited to respond to a consultation document describing the changes to the Web Standards proposed by the standards impact assessment.
50 responses were received from representatives of disability communities, Government organisations, and external vendors.
Web Standards Working Group
The NZ Government Web Standards Working Group was rekindled in December 2012. It is made up of representatives from a number of Government and disability organisations. The Group's first job was to assess the responses to the Web Standards consultation, and deliver the new Government Web Standards.
Now that the new Web Standards have been issued, the Group is working on delivering guidance to help Government organisations and vendors create more accessible, conformant websites.
Inspiration from other jurisdictions
Acknowledgement and thanks are due to the Government of Canada and the Australian Government. Their work on web standards has had a significant impact on the development of New Zealand's new Standards. In particular, the Web Standards for the Government of Canada have greatly informed the decision to deliver two separate standards, and to allow some temporary exceptions to the application of certain WCAG 2.0 success criteria.
If you have questions about the new Standards or suggestions for guidance you think the Working Group should produce, please email email@example.com or leave a comment below.