DDA Primer: Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is an important piece of legislation which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and has extended to cover both digital and physical business operations.

In this article, we review the fundamentals of the DDA, how it applies to digital accessibility, and some key provisions to be aware of.

What is DDA? Disability Discrimination Act Fundamentals

The Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 prohibits discrimination in a number of areas of public life, including:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Sports
  • Accommodation
  • The provision of goods, services, and facilities.

The law applies to any organization that serves the public, including both government institutions and private companies. The DDA recognizes a broad spectrum of disabilities, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, and more.

What are the important provisions of the DDA for digital accessibility?

Much like the United States’ ADA (passed in 1990 and later expanded via court decision to include digital accessibility), Australia’s DDA legislation was written before digital accessibility was a primary concern for lawmakers, but the law’s coverage has since been expanded. The DDA provided for a third-party organization, the Australian Human Rights Commission, to issue supplementary guidelines.

Through continually revised advisory notes, the Commission has since expanded the DDA to cover digital accessibility. Specifically, they have ruled that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) constitute an effective and comprehensive “set of testable benchmarks for assessing key aspects of the accessibility of websites and other web content…”

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s guidance recommends conformance with Level AA of the WCAG guidelines.

What is WCAG Level AA?

WCAG refers to digital accessibility guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Globally, WCAG is the most commonly referenced set of standards in website accessibility litigation.

WCAG AA refers to one of three levels of conformity with the WCAG guidelines: A, AA, and AAA. These grades are applied to evaluate an organization’s digital presence according to each of the WCAG’s primary principles: digital assets should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Learn more about WCAG and how your organization can conform to achieve accessibility and usability for all.

However, the Commission also cautions that “accessibility of web content cannot always be achieved solely through compliance with WCAG 2.0. In addition to these Guidelines, web designers and authors will need to make themselves familiar with a range of tools, resources, and emerging best-practice solutions, as they meet their accessibility goals and responsibilities under the DDA.” As of 2024, the Commission was working to update this guidance language to reflect the latest WCAG 2.2 version.

Notably, “the Commission takes into consideration the extent to which the best available advice on accessibility has been obtained and followed.”

Ten Common DDA Failures

While noting that these items are not comprehensive, the Australian Human Rights commission notes that the following items account for a significant proportion of problems and should be rectified immediately.

  1. Failure to include appropriate text descriptions (such as “alt-text” labels) for images;
  2. Failure to provide accessible alternatives when using a visual CAPTCHA;
  3. Failure to use technologies (such as Flash and JavaScript) in ways that are accessible;
  4. Failure to use HTML features appropriately to indicate content structure such as the hierarchy of headings;
  5. Failure to explicitly associate form input controls with their labels;
  6. Failure to ensure sufficient difference between foreground (text) color and background color;
  7. Failure to identify data tables with Summary or Caption, and failure to mark-up data tables correctly;
  8. Failure to provide a way for users to disable content such as advertisements from flashing rapidly (rapidly flashing content may cause seizures in susceptible individuals), and failure to provide a way for users to stop a page from auto-refreshing;
  9. Failure to ensure that web pages can be used with the keyboard (that is, without the mouse);
  10. Failure to alert the user to changes on a web page that are triggered automatically when selecting items from a dropdown menu.

Penalties for Non-Compliance with DDA

Complaints concerning potential DDA violations are submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission, which will attempt to resolve the issue through conciliation, a process handled outside of the formal court system. However, if the process fails to reach a satisfactory resolution, the parties in question may seek monetary damages through Australia’s Federal Court System.

Next Steps: Learn More About Providing an Accessible Digital Experience for All

The DDA is another example of the growing global ecosystem of digital accessibility legislation. Other examples include:

In any country, maintaining an accessible digital presence is crucial for maintaining regulatory compliance, improving the user experience for all, and bringing your message to the widest possible audience.

If you are interested in learning more about elevating your organization’s approach to evaluating and improving digital accessibility, TPGi is here to help. We invite you to explore our resource center and take advantage of our free accessibility testing tools.

Please reach out to our team if you have any questions about how to achieve a more accessible website.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, Legal, World of Accessibility
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Ricky Onsman says:

Anyone interested in how guidance for digital accessibility in Australia could be improved should have their say at https://intopia.digital/articles/have-your-say-updated-digital-accessibility-guidance-for-australia/.