How to Write Accessible Content –Part  1

Why You Need to Know How to Write for the Web

There are three crucial reasons any business and its staff need to know how to write for the web:

  • You can be sued if you do it wrong
  • It will get you more business if you do it right
  • It helps people find you and share your content

Unfortunately far too many Australian websites fail to meet the basic accessibility and standards compliant requirements.

Writing for the web is more than just dashing off a quick post and finding an attractive image to go with it.

Even hiring a professional PR consultant or copy writer to produce your content probably won’t keep you out of trouble.

Over the next few months I’ll be writing a series of posts on what businesses and government agencies really need to know about creating and writing online content.


Delores da Law is da Law

As I said at the start, the big heavy reason is that you can get sued if you do it wrong.

The short explanation is that it is illegal in Australia, as it is in most western countries, to discriminate against people for any reason be that age, race, sex, disability or faith.

There are some other laws and international treaty requirements as well, and all up they mean you have no excuse for not complying.

Plenty of big companies such as IBM, the Olympics Organising Committee and Target have all been successfully sued for producing web pages that don’t comply with the law.

In fact, Australia set the global legal precedent for this.

Government departments especially are required as a matter of policy to make their information and services available to everyone equally.

The Australian Federal Government became so concerned by poor state of government websites accessibility, that it set a deadline for compliance.

All Australian government agencies Federal, State and Local, until December of this year to start getting their online houses in order.

And until December 2014 to have their websites fully comply with the country’s laws.

It’s not that any of these laws are new, it just seems that far too many web developers, webmasters and online business managers were either unaware of the need to obey the law, or simply didn’t care.

Unfortunately many of them now have a big mess to fix.

So, before you rush headlong into developing your content marketing strategy, your social media and blogging channels, take a step back and make sure everyone on your web team knows how to produce accessible and standards compliant material.


The Consequences are Serious

The consequences of not doing so are outlined on the Government’s website:

Failure to effectively manage website content can have a number of ramifications:

  • Legal exposure if users act upon incorrect or outdated information on the site and incur a loss.
  • Agencies may also be legally liable if statutory requirements, such as accessibility, are not met. Note that this liability applies to websites as well as corporate intranets.
  • Negative impact upon reputation and branding, due to poorly designed and structured sites.
  • Other public relations and political issues caused by the release of untimely, inaccurate or inappropriate information.
  • Increased customer complaints and support costs, due to inaccurate or misleading published information.
  • Negative impact upon staff productivity, primarily due to time spent searching for information on poorly designed or poorly managed intranets.

This applies to private enterprise too.


You Have Been Warned

In future posts I’ll get into the detail of how to start complying with the law, hopefully it will become required reading for you.

In the meantime, for more background see this post I wrote some four years ago.


PS: Before someone mentions it, yes I am aware that this site doesn't validate. It used to, but the joys of running a blog and adding in various third party social sharing options have caused a steady erosion of the markup. A situation that will be addressed early in the new year with a revamped design and some rewritten sharing buttons.

Which goes to show, even those of us who should know better sometimes come undone.

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