Australia adopts new standard for ICT accessibility in procurement

By Stephen Easton

August 22, 2016

Australia will adopt a new standard for ICT accessibility in procurement, federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann announced today. In time, this should make it easier for people with disabilities to deal with government, and to work for it.

The Department of Finance has already committed to add the new standard to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, according to the report from former disability discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan’s last inquiry.

Ryan recommended all Australian governments mandate that when their agencies buy any new IT equipment, including software and peripherals, it must made according to universal design principles so it is “available to and usable by all people, whatever their abilities”.

The recent report, Willing to Work, urged all governments to be involved in the discussions that have now led to the adoption of the internationally aligned standard. For the Commonwealth, Ryan had a further suggestion:

“In leading the implementation of the standards, it is also recommended that government facilitate an accessible ICT champions group with key employers and industry groups to embed the standards more widely across the Australian ICT landscape.”

The new Australian Standard is “to be used as guidance for all levels of government when determining technical specifications for the procurement of accessible ICT products and services” according to a statement from Standards Australia chief Bronwyn Evans.

The new set of guidelines are based on a standard adopted by European nations in 2014 and only have legal force when they are referenced in legislation or legal contracts.

Cormann’s brief statement that the new standard will be adopted by “Australia” does not explicitly confirm it will become a requirement for all Australian Public Service procurement. He says its establishment will lead to “greater accessibility” for all of the more than four million Australians with a disability:

“The Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services establishes a minimum standard to ensure that websites, software and digital devices are accessible.”

… The new standard can be used by all levels of government when determining technical specifications for the procurement of accessible ICT products and services.”

The announcement comes at the end of stakeholder discussions led by the Department of Finance, Standards Australia and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

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