The Commonwealth of Australia has established federal discrimination laws and accessibility acts to provide equal access to people with disabilities. The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and Australian Capital Territory have established similar laws and acts under their respective governments to ensure continuous access and equality to its communities.
As the world shifts to providing information and services through the web, accessibility laws have begun to focus on website accessibility to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to web based information and services.
Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
The wave of accessibility laws began with Australia's Disability Discrimination Act of 1992. The intention of the act is to eliminate disability discrimination in places of accommodation, employment, education, sports and clubs, provisions, laws and programs. Its goal is to also to ensure continued equal rights and promote acceptance of disabilities in the community. The law also addresses discrimination involving harassment. Outlined in the DDA, it is prohibited to harass a person on the basis of disability in employment, including contractual agreements, in education, and in the provisioning of goods and services.
Broadcasting Services Act
The Australian Broadcasting Services Act was enacted in 1992 to promote, provide, and ensure that audiences have access to broadcasting and that broadcasters are meeting audience needs by implementing regulations. It effectively replaced the 1942 Broadcasting Act. The Broadcasting Services Act applies to broadcasting but also, internet and datacasting services.
Broadcasting Services Include:
- National Broadcasting,
- Commercial Broadcasting,
- Community Broadcasting,
- International Broadcasting,
- Subscription Broadcasting and Narrowcasting, and
- Open Narrowcasting.
Datacasting Services Include:
- Sounds (example: music or speech), and
- Visual elements.
Through the Broadcasting Services Act, licensing is outlined for broadcasting. In the outlines, it is required that programs be captioned for people who are hard of hearing or who are deaf. Programs that are being transmitted after July 2014, must be captioned during the designated viewing hours of 6 AM and Midnight. Programs that were transmitted before July 2014 must also have programs captioned between 6 AM and 10:30 PM. Through licensing, subscription television licensees, must have annual captioning targets for each financial year.
The Australian Parliament outlines that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has the authority and responsibility in monitoring the broadcasting, internet, datacasting, and commercial content service industries.
The ACMA determines the standards for captioning in relation to the quality of captioning provided by commercial television broadcasting licenses for television programs, national broadcasters for television programs, subscription television broadcasting licenses for television programs, and subscription television narrowcasting licenses for television programs. Captioning provided must be readable, comprehensible, and accurate.
Australian Communications and Media Authority Act
The ACMA Act was enacted in 2005 in order to regulate and enforce Australian Parliament regulation in the Telecommunications and Broadcasting Services Acts, among others. This law provides the authority to initiate investigations into non-compliance of the regulations associated with each act. ACMA may provide remedial guidance to ensure that individuals remain in compliance. It should be stated that the ACMA does not give legal advice, but offers guidance to achieve compliance to the acts they have authority and knowledge over.
Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy
All government owned and operated information and services must be accessible by conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. This includes federal, state, and territories in Australia.
The Web Accessibility National Strategy strives to establish universal design for accessibility and to reinforce the UN's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To be accessible for all people with disabilities, the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy established a work plan to implement web accessibility. It began with preparation in 2010 and continued to transition in 2011. The last phase, implementation, completed in 2014, at which point all websites must be made accessible by conforming to WCAG 2.0 level AA conformance standards.
The Secretaries' ICT Governance Board and the Online and Communications Council endorsed and sponsored the mandate for websites to be accessible to people with disabilities. The ICT Governance Board authority applies to Australian Federal Government while the Online and Communications Council authority applies to Australian federal, state, and territory agencies. In their continued commitment to make Australian websites accessible to all people, different jurisdictions worked together to ensure a standardized accessibility adoption.
Listed below are key definition to fully understanding Australian accessibility laws. The definitions are defined by the Commonwealth Consolidated Acts(unless stated otherwise).
Accommodation: "...residential or business." In other words, the provisions that need to be made in relation to a person's ability to have access to residential or business settings and services. A person must not refuse or defer another's application got accommodation and/or deny or refuse reasonable accommodations. (DDA)
Broadcasting Service: "a service that delivers television programs or radio programs to persons having equipment appropriate for receiving that service, whether the delivery uses the radio frequency spectrum, cable, optical fibre, satellite or any other means or a combination of those means." (BSA)
Captioning: The text version of speech that is displayed as programs are broadcasted. Text is displayed in congruence with the words being spoken. (BSA)
Datacasting Service: "a service that delivers content: (a) whether in the form of text; or (b) whether in the form of data; or (c) whether in the form of speech, music or other sounds; or (d) whether in the form of visual images (animated or otherwise); or (e) whether in any other form; or (f) whether in any combination of forms; to persons having equipment appropriate for receiving that content, where the delivery of the service uses the broadcasting services bands." (BSA)
Disability: "...in relation to a person, means: total or partial loss of the person's bodily or mental functions; or total or partial loss of a part of the body; or the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or the presence in the body of organism capable or causing disease or illness; or the malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a party of the person's body; or a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction; or a disorder, illness or disease that affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement or that results in distributed behaviour [sic]; and includes a disability that: presently exists; or previously existed but no longer exists; or may exist in the future (including because of a genetic predisposition to that disability); or is imputed to a person." (DDA)
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0: "...is a stable, referenceable technical standard. It has 12 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For each guideline, there are testable success criteria, which are at three levels: A, AA, and AAA." (From W3C's WAI)