Internet Access on the New Zealand Agenda
By Robyn Hunt (email@example.com)
The New Zealand government is considering accessibility issues on its own web sites. It is developing web standards, including accessibility standards, although, as yet, it has not gone as far as either the US or Australia in legislating for access.
Some accessibility features have been included in the draft web guidelines produced by the e-government Unit in the State Services Commission
These have been publicised by Govis, the Government information systems managers forum. The recent annual Govis conference focused on the guidelines, and included an accessibility workshop, led by Larry Stillman from Vicnet at the State Library of Victoria in Australia.
The necessity for accessibility standards was highlighted by the release of the e-government Strategy.
The strategy, firstname.lastname@example.org says that by 2004 the Internet will be the dominant means of enabling ready access to government information, services and processes.
'New Zealanders already live in one of the worlds most networked countries with a very high usage of the Internet,' said Minister of State Services Trevor Mallard at the launch. He said that by 2004 most people will access government services through the Internet.
The strategy will offer easy access through a government portal to the full range of government information and services. Access to government services and information will still be available through traditional channels.
While the strategy document itself is high level and does not refer specifically to accessibility, accompanying information refers to the Govis guidelines, and indicates that the intention is to broaden rather than narrow the use of technology.
'The government is making all the right noises,' said Graham Oliver, web accessibility expert. 'My responsibility is to ensure that they deliver on these promises. I believe that without the active involvement of the disability community accessibility is a pipe dream.'
The government also plans to make authoritative, accurate, and up-to-date versions of New Zealand legislation available without charge through the Internet. Currently legislation is available free, but Acts of Parliament and amendments are listed separately which makes search difficult for disabled people using assistive technology. The planned system will consolidate Acts and their amendments. Print access will continue to be provided at a reasonable price.
It remains to be seen what accessibility requirements are included in the contract with Unisys.
The Department of Labour is working on a Digital Divide project that is also raising issues of inequity of access by disabled people.
The e-government strategy is available online in HTML, Word, and PDF formats at www.e-government.govt.nz. The web guidelines are available on the Govis web site at www.govis.org.nz.