The needs of Australia’s blind and low vision community have been ignored in the response to COVID-19, with the Australian Department of Health’s online vaccine eligibility checker failing to meet the government’s own accessibility requirements.
An assessment of the online platform by Vision Australia’s Digital Access team has shown it does not meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA requirements. WCAG 2.1 Level AA is the national and international benchmark for web accessibility.
Ron Hooton, Vision Australia CEO, said it’s extremely disappointing the platform has been launched in its current form.
“Ensuring this platform was accessible to all Australians should have been the first priority when it was designed. People who are blind or have low vision or live with other disability have been some of the hardest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and to be denied the ability to access information about how and when they might receive their vaccine is a further blow,” Ron said.
Chris Edwards, Vision Australia manager of government relations and advocacy, said it’s frustrating the government hasn’t learned from similar failures in the past.
“Unfortunately there is a history of the disability community being neglected when it comes to accessing important health information and services. The government’s COVIDSafe app was not accessible when it was first released and in 2018 the online My Health Record opt-out process also failed to meet the needs of our community,” he said.
“Those issues were only resolved after Vision Australia brought them to the government’s attention and it’s disappointing that we have to be the accessibility watchdog, rather than the government doing their bit from the beginning.”
The vaccine eligibility checker fails to meet WCAG requirements on a number of fronts, including large sections being incompatible with screen-reading software, poor colour contrast and excessive alt-text.
As a result, people who are blind or have low vision face real difficulty in being able to access material on the platform or input the necessary information to determine their eligibility or find where they can receive a vaccine.
Josh Crawford, Vision Australia Digital Access acting national manager, said those issues indicate the government did not properly consider accessibility and the needs of people who are blind or have low vision throughout the design and development of the platform.
“The accessibility issues present on the platform aren’t difficult to fix, but the government should have followed best practice by emphasising accessibility from the outset and carrying out the appropriate user-testing and accessibility audits,”
“Not only would that ensure all Australians can use and access it, it would also mean a better user experience for everyone, regardless of if they live with disability or not,” Josh said.
For further media enquiries: Phil McCarroll, 0416 632 253
About Vision Australia
Vision Australia is a leading provider of blindness related services. We offer a wide range of services, equipment and training so people who are blind or have low vision can live the life they choose.
Whether it’s at home, work, school or in the community, our expert staff provide clients across all age groups with skills and tools to help lead active, safe and independent lives.
Visit our website at www.visionaustralia.org.