Make content accessible - Digital Standards

A practical guide to making your content accessible for those with a disability including self-assessment tools.

Before you begin

What is accessibility?

Web content can be difficult for users with disability to navigate and process. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires agencies to ensure people with disability have the same access to information and services as others in the community.

Online, this means to design and build digital content that meets the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) accessibility guidelines, so that if you’re a person with one or more of the impairments in this list, you’ll still be able to access the content:

  • auditory: hard of hearing, deafness
  • cognitive and neurological: learning disabilities, distractibility, difficulties remembering, focusing on large amounts of information
  • physical: difficulties using a mouse or keyboard, limited fine motor control, slower response time
  • speech: difficulty producing speech for the purposes of speech recognition services or people
  • visual: degrees of impairment in one or both eyes, colour blindness, sensitivity to bright colours

Why make websites and content accessible?

The Victorian Government is committed to the principles of open and inclusive government, including providing accessible digital content and services to all Australians regardless of disability, culture or environment. Making content accessible makes sure the information the Victorian Government publishes online is universally accessible.

What does the Victorian Government recommend?

All Victorian Government online services must comply with WCAG 2.0 Accessibility standards (Level AA).

If your department works directly with people with disability, such as the NDIS, your digital content needs to comply with the AAA standard.

Note these standards apply to both internal and external digital content.

What standards must be met?


Comply with the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 2.0 AA standard.

If your audience is primarily people with a disability (for example, National Disability Insurance Scheme clients), your site must pass the AAA standard.

These standards also apply to your internal documents and intranet sites. You should provide evidence of your compliance through an internal or external audit, with an action plan to address any issues.

Other guiding legislation and international conventions

In 2010, the Australian Government, through the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS), implemented a policy of web accessibility.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s Disability Discrimination Act Advisory Notes to help reduce the risk of disability discrimination.

The Australian Government has also approved the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Articles 9 and Article 21 state access to information, communications and services (including the internet) is a human right.


Apply Brand Victoria. Refer to the How-to guide, Apply Brand Victoria, specifically written for digital.

Getting it approved

Assess for WCAG 2.0 compliance

You can either self-assess, or get a vendor to build or check for WCAG 2.0 compliance (refer to the notes on self-assessment further on).

We also recommend you test content with the end users, including screen reader users, and have an independent subject matter expert or a specialist company design or test for accessibility.

Seek expert advice. A few agencies do have staff with accessibility skills. Check with your digital or online services support team to see if they can help you.

Understanding Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are designed to make websites universally accessible. They also improve the experience for users without disability.

There are three levels of WCAG conformance:

  • Level A: the minimum level
  • Level AA: the medium level
  • Level AAA: the highest level

The WCAG guidelines are globally accepted as best practice for web development. Each individual guideline (for example, contrast) has measurable success criteria. There are various online tests and tools you can use (they’re listed further on) to check if your web content complies, and how well.

In Victoria, the minimum requirement for VPS content is Level AA.

The best resources to help you understand the guidelines is the WCAG guide itself. However, for an excellent introduction to the topic refer to:

Practical tools for self-assessment online

Technical development

Your technical development is work you’ll most likely outsource to vendors outside your team. It’s important to make sure they have a good understanding of the WCAG guidelines and how to apply them.

Be clear about the requirements

Specify in the contract that vendors have to comply with WCAG 2.0, provide evidence they’ve tested it, and it passes compliance. Check the warranty to see it covers fixing non-compliant work.

Build in accessibility

An effective way to ensure the final site is accessible is to build in the accessibility during the development and technical enhancements. Vendors need to make the back-end system and front-end, compliant before, during and after development.

Content development

For you or your team, we strongly recommend working to understand what accessible content is, learn how to create it, and how to self-assess your own work for AA compliance. For practical instructions on optimising accessibility, refer to these Creative Commons online factsheets.

To get you started, these are the basics for improving accessibility:

Accessible images

All your images also need alternative text or ‘alt tags’, so use null attribute that is, alt="" (no space) to provide an alternative for screen reader users. They must also have enough contrast, for users with low vision.

Alternative text for images

Your alternative text (alt tags) for images needs to be intelligible to text readers, and descriptive enough. For example, don’t say ‘Photo of a tree’, instead, express what the message of the image is, ‘Maple tree provides welcome shade over a park bench and bus stop’. Good alternative text helps search engines make better sense of the page.

Accessible headings

Headings need to be identified (that is, as an H1 etc.) and structured correctly (that is, H1 then H2 – not H1 then H3.) This helps screen reader compatibility.

Accessible links

Links need to describe where you’re taking the user. Make sure they make sense when read in isolation – don’t use ‘click here’ and ‘read more’. This applies to in-text and standalone links.

Tip: Don’t write: 'For the WCAG guidelines click here.'

Do write: 'For more information, read the WCAG guidelines.'

Accessible colours and the importance of contrast

Colours for graphics or text need to be in the recommended colour palette (see How to apply Brand Victoria for the full list). There must be enough contrast between colour of the text and the colour of the background. Online tools, such as WebAIM’s colour contrast checker, allow you to easily check the accessibility of colour combinations.

DELWPs Communicating data with colour gives excellent guidance on designing accessible content for people with colour-blindness.

Colour and type accessibility

Colour combinations between type and background should be chosen carefully to ensure they are accessible. Both the primary and secondary Brand Victoria colour palettes have been tested against WCAG AA and WCAG AAA . The results are noted in:

Accessible tables

Tables need extra markup. This means, for example, using the table header (TH) and caption tags in place of the table data (TD) tags, otherwise the code will confuse a text screen reader. Refer to Webaim's techniques for building accessible tables.

This online accessible table builder allows you to build a table quickly without knowing HTML.

Assess for accessibility

You can self-assess your accessibility with these online tools listed by WCAG on its website. These will either mark what isn’t compliant or build a report. The national Digital Transformation Agency also has a recommended testing process for self-assessment.

Where possible, outsource accessibility testing to an independent vendor — their review will be more comprehensive.

Dealing with difficult document formats for attachments

Avoid difficult formats where possible

Some kinds of content are hard to make compliant. Generally, it is best to try to avoid using PDFs, or Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel documents online. These file types are not mobile friendly, as they take longer to download than HTML, and cannot be made responsive.

Microsoft Word files are still preferred over PDFs

The Microsoft Word format can be made to conform to WCAG 2.0, but is unlikely to be compliant without some extra work. You can make the document accessible by using structured markup of the content (H1, H2 etc), and adding alt tags to images. Read the WebAIM Microsoft Word guide for practical guidance, and ideally support the document with an accessible HTML alternative.

Tip: Use MS Word's inbuilt accessibility checker.

You can check if your Word documents comply with most accessibility requirements.

On Word’s Main Menu select File > Check for Issues > Check accessibility. A detailed accessibility report displays on the right of the screen.

Alternatively read Microsoft's detailed and illustrated guide to making MS Word files accessible.

Microsoft's built-in checker can't check everything. For example, it doesn't check if text has enough contrast or if table headers are labelled correctly. It can check if an image or table has alternative text (alt tag) — but not if the text makes sense.

Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel files

Making PowerPoint and Excel and email documents accessible is very difficult. It’s best left to outside vendors. At a minimum, you will need to provide a HTML cover page with your document’s purpose, message and key findings.

Portable Document Format (PDF)

Provide alternatives

Provide a compliant HTML alternative. The only exception is PDF forms where you should have a Word document form rather than an HTML page.

Note: MS Word documents are preferred to PDFs as they are easier to make accessible.

Improve PDF accessibility

You can improve PDF accessibility using these PDF general techniques and PDF-specific techniques published by WCAG, or refer to this practical and well-illustrated guide by WebAIM. To check the accessibility of your PDF, read this Adobe Acrobat X Pro guide.

Video and other multimedia

Provide a text equivalent

As a minimum, you will need to provide a text equivalent for all video and multimedia. This includes:

  • captions. You won’t be able to rely on YouTube’s auto-captioning – it’s inaccurate
  • a script or transcript for all audio and video files. There are many online transcript services, rev is one option. If AAA compliance is your standard, extra work is needed for non-text content

Accessible maps

Access IQ’s tips for accessible map making will help you to understand and provide accessible equivalents for maps.

Complying with internal ICT policy and procedures

Your agency should already be embedding web accessibility (WCAG 2.0 conformance) into your IT and communication policies and practices. This covers:

  • IT infrastructure
  • online publishing procedures
  • training and education
  • procurement
  • ongoing web accessibility action plans
  • executive reporting
  • all internal documents

Your agency is encouraged to develop, maintain and provide:

  • adequate resources to effectively deliver web accessibility
  • publishing procedures which incorporate web accessibility quality control and risk management
  • IT policy detailing scheduled web accessibility audits
  • ongoing action plans, managing possible instances of inaccessibility
  • education and awareness programs, providing staff with the necessary skills to deliver accessibility
  • regular reporting to your executive

Include agency intranets, third-party (external) sites and social media in your ICT policies.

Updating your procurement processes

Agencies should update their ICT procurement processes, especially those relating to websites and web-based service delivery, to include specific web accessibility criteria. Updating your procurement processes will help your agency achieve value for money by reducing the need for re-work or customisation to meet the mandatory accessibility standards. The federal Department of Finance website has more advice and information.

Checklist: best practice

  • Write WCAG 2 AA accessibility compliance into any requests for quotes and requirements
  • Get new websites or applications independently tested for accessibility
  • Apply accessibility standards to internal digital assets
  • Don't use PDFs, and if you can’t provide HTML, use MS Word and make it accessible
  • Provide a transcript and closed captions for audio or visual content

Reviewed 27 February 2020

Was this page helpful?