Accessibility and inclusivity

Design content so everyone can use it.

Audience diversity

Understand the diversity of your audience.

Write content that all users can read and understand.

Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries

  • 27% of Australia’s 22 million people were born overseas.
  • 46% of Australians have at least 1 parent who was born overseas.
  • 3% of Australians identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • 19% of Australians speak a language other than English at home.
  • 60% of Australia’s population growth in 2013 was from overseas migration.


Abilities and expectations of Australians vary

  • 18.3% of Australians live with disability affecting their daily activities.
  • 12.1% of 35 to 44 year olds live with disability.
  • 50.7% of Australians aged 65 and over live with disability.
  • 85.4% of Australians aged 90 and over live with disability.
  • 8% of males and 0.4% of females experience colour deficiencies (colour blindness).

Literacy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:

  • 44% at literacy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
  • 39% at level 3
  • 17% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)

Numeracy levels for Australians aged 15 to 74 years:

  • approximately 55% at numeracy level 1 to 2 (a very low level)
  • 32% at level 3
  • 13% at level 4 to 5 (the highest level)


Australia’s population is ageing

  • 14% of Australia’s population is over 65. It will rise to 18% by 2061.
  • 420,300 Australians are aged 85 years or over. It will rise to 3.5 million people by 2069.

Source: Population Projections, Australia, 2012 (base) to 2101.

Inclusive language and terms

Avoid discriminatory language that treats some people differently from others.

Example of

inclusive terms

  • Worker — instead of workman.
  • Business manager or business person — instead of businessman or businesswoman.
  • Chairperson — instead of chairman or chairwoman.
  • People with disability — not people with a disability, disabled or handicapped people.
  • People with intellectual disability — not intellectually disabled.
  • People who are deaf or have a hearing impairment — not unable to hear.
  • People who are blind or have a vision impairment — not unable to see.
  • Older people or seniors — not pensioners, old-age pensioners or the aged.
  • Young people — not youth or juveniles.
  • First Australians or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (note the plural) — not ATSI, Aborigines or Aboriginals.

Speak to the person, not their difference

Speak to the person in plain English without jargon. Don’t speak to their difference.

This avoids getting caught up in semantics and is respectful of:

  • disability
  • cultural differences
  • differences in socioeconomic background
  • differences in educational levels and systems
  • generational differences
  • gender roles
  • perceptions of social and support concepts
  • political impacts on life events
  • pre and post effects of wars
  • religious affiliations
  • values or philosophical differences

More guidance on inclusive language is available from the Australian Network on Disability.

Avoid gendered pronouns

Rewrite the sentence to avoid using gender-specific singular pronouns (he/she, her/his, her/him).

Example of

avoiding gender-specific singular pronouns

Use this:

Submit your employment declaration.

Not this:

Every employee should submit his employment declaration.

Transgender people

Avoid the use of incorrect genders, or even gendered pronouns if it is not specifically relevant.

The general term to be applied in a document is ‘transgender person’ (not ‘people identifying as transgender’. People may choose to self-identify as transgender, trans, or trans (identified gender).

Intersex people

Intersex is typically referred to as ‘intersex’, with no variation recommended.

More guidance on talking about intersex is available from Intersex Human Rights Australia.

Gender and sexuality resources

Refer to these resources for detailed guidance on gender and sexuality:

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

The terms ‘First Australians’ and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) include distinct and diverse cultural groups. These terms do not represent a homogenous group.

Don’t use:

  • Aboriginals, Aborigine — these words are associated with colonisation and assimilation and are distressing to many people
  • ATSI — never use the acronym ATSI as this is considered disrespectful
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians

Use the correct language group name if possible

Example of

using language group name

  • The Ngunawal woman spoke first.
  • We wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunawal people.

The Australian Indigenous Languages Database from AIATSIS may help you identify the appropriate local language.

Use ‘First Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) if you are not sure of the local language group or are talking about multiple groups.

First Australian is not generally used in reference to an individual.

Example of

preferred terms for referring to First Australians

  • More than 1000 First Australians were employed through the program.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have distinct identities, histories and cultural traditions.

If appropriate you can use the terms ‘Aboriginal peoples’ and ‘Torres Strait Islander peoples’ on their own.

Example of

using Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples

  • The Aboriginal flag was created as a symbol of unity and national identity for Aboriginal peoples during the land rights movement of the early 1970s.
  • Aboriginal Elder.
  • The Torres Strait Islander flag was created as a symbol of unity and identity for Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Torres Strait Islander child/woman/man.

Be careful using the word ‘Indigenous’

While it is Australian Government practice to refer to Indigenous Australians, this is not preferred by many First Australians.

Indigenous is the common term when referring to a business entity or business function.

Indigenous should always be capitalised.

Example of

using Indigenous with care

  • Indigenous Specialist Officer
  • Indigenous Services Branch

Writing for First Australian audiences

Remember that English can be a second, third or even fourth language for many First Australians.

Guidance on how to write for First Australian audiences:

Writing cultural terms

Make sure of the context and relevance before using First Australian cultural terms.

Example of

First Australians cultural terms

  • First Peoples
  • On Country
  • Sorry Business
  • Men’s Business
  • Women’s Business
  • Traditional Owners or Traditional Custodians

There’s guidance on using First Australian cultural terms in the Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences 2016 report.

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Find out if there is a user need to provide the content in other community languages.

This can be important if there are compliance requirements or health and safety issues.

Identify the right languages

Research with users to find out which languages they need to read the information in.

Don’t just pick the top languages spoken at home, or another simple metric. These can be misleading about real user needs.

Plain English is easier to translate

Write the content in Plain English first. This makes it easier to translate, and to read when translated.

Translate the cultural context

Translating is not just about the literal words. It’s also about capturing the meaning of what you are communicating within the context of a culture.

Use an accredited translator

It is best practice to use an NAATI-accredited translator. Then ask another accredited translator to check it.

Make all formats accessible

Make sure the format of the translated content is accessible.

If there is a user need for a PDF of the translated content you must:

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Images and alt text

Choose relevant and clear images

Use words rather than images. Only use images that usefully add to the text content.

Make sure the images are not culturally insensitive to any audience.

Make sure there is sufficient contrast between any text and the background in images.

All images need alt text

Images must have alternative text (or alt text) to describe the information or function of the image.

Alt text appears to the user when:

  • images are disabled or fail to load
  • screen reader or text-to-speech software is used

If you include images you must create alt text.

Different types of images have different alt text requirements. You can use an alt text decision tree to help you work out what kind of alt text you need.


Add ‘Caption: description of the image…’ below the image.

Don’t use the same text in the caption and alt text. Otherwise a person listening to the page hears the same information twice.

If the caption clearly explains the image make the alt text blank (alt="").

In HTML5 use the <figcaption> tag in the <figure> element.

Example of

image caption

Caption: the conventional version of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms of Australia.

Informative images

Informative images convey a simple concept or information that can be expressed in a short phrase or sentence.

An informative image needs:

  • text near the image that references it
  • short alt text that briefly describes the content (different from the caption)

Diagrams, graphs, charts and other complex images

A complex image needs:

  • text near the image that explains why it is there and what it shows or highlights
  • short alt text that briefly describes the content (different from the caption)
  • text link to a page with a long text description (and possibly the associated data)

Graphs need dots, dashes and patterns, in addition to colour, to show the difference between data.

Long text description

A long text description is a full description of a complex image or the table of data used to generate a graph or chart.

Long text helps people who don’t understand graphs or diagrams as well as those who can’t see them.

To write long text imagine you’re describing the essential elements of a complex image in a radio interview or over the phone. Explain the important aspects, not necessarily the detail.

Also see W3C’s complex images tutorial.

Decorative images

If an image is just decoration you should use a null (empty) alt text: alt="" (don’t add a space between the quotation marks).

A common way of including decorative images is to add them using the CSS rather than the HTML code.

Never include an informative image with CSS as alt text cannot be applied to it.

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Video accessibility

Videos must have:

  • transcripts for people who don’t want to watch the video, and for search engine indexing
  • closed captions for people who can’t hear the dialogue and other sounds
  • audio description for people who can’t see the video that explains any important visual-only detail

Accessible video resources:

Think about all accessibility issues

Video is not just difficult for users with visual impairment. Think about:

  • hearing impairment
  • mobility — for example, restricted keyboard access
  • flickering and moving content
  • language difficulty
  • the user’s environment — for example a noisy location or a workplace where the sound disturbs colleagues

Provide a transcript and closed captions

Add the HTML transcript to the same page as the video. Or add a link below or beside the video to a page with the transcript.

Include all speech content and the speakers’ names.

If there is only 1 speaker you can leave out their name, unless their identity is crucial to the content.

Write relevant non-verbal information in square brackets.

Example of

writing non-verbal information in transcript

‘…to get to the other side [laughing].’

End the transcript with ‘End of transcript’.

Use audio description for important visual-only information

Provide audio description for any text displayed in the video.

Use audio description to give context if it is not obvious from the title.

You don’t need audio description for dialogue delivered straight to camera (‘talking heads’).

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PDF accessibility

HTML should be the default format for all government information.

If there is a strong user need to provide a PDF (for example for printing) the document must still be accessible.

You should still make sure the PDF content is available in another format such as HTML.

PDFs are not accessible on mobile devices

On mobile devices, PDFs do not comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 due to a lack of support for document structure.

People can only use assistive technologies to read PDFs if they are using a desktop or laptop device.

PDFs are also difficult for many users to access on smaller screens as they don’t resize and reformat to fit the screen (reflow).

People can also be aware of how much data they use — especially on mobile devices. Downloading large files (over 1MB) can be difficult especially in regional and remote places.

Users may simply choose not to open a PDF and this means information is hidden.

Structure PDFs logically

To make a PDF accessible you must make sure structural elements such as headings are marked-up so that a screen reader can follow the logical order of the content. This is called the structural hierarchy.

Guidance on how to structure PDFs:

Make it clear you’re linking to a PDF file

Use the link to tell your users that they are downloading a PDF and how big it is.

Offer an alternative format to PDF

Provide a contact (an email address) so users can request the information in a different format.

If you are relying on PDF as the accessible format, then the document needs a HTML landing page. The landing page should contain an overview of the document and outcomes, as relevant.

Example of

referencing a PDF

Sustainable farming

Sustainable Farming Guide 472KB PDF

The Sustainable Farming Guide tells you how to …

Email to ask for this guide in a different format.

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Screen readers

Screen readers are an assistive technology that helps users who are blind, visually impaired or have reading difficulties.

People use screen readers to navigate and understand web pages through a combination of:

  • reading the content of the web page in a linear order
  • moving around the page through headings, links and form elements

Clear writing helps all users

Write clearly and use plain English. This helps users with screen readers by making content easier to understand and to skim.

Keep sentences short so the meaning is concise. This means the screen reader won’t need to read out a lot of punctuation. Not all screen readers work the same and some can miss nuances in longer sentences.

Frontload paragraphs so the screen reader user can skip to the next paragraph if the content isn’t relevant to them. This helps users to scan content in the same way it helps sighted readers.

Screen readers can index web page headings, links and tags to create an overview that people can use to navigate.

Make web pages easier to navigate for screen readers using:

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WCAG for content authors

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines ways to make digital content more accessible to the broadest audience.

Australian government agencies are required to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA, which includes Level A. This is also required by the Australian Government Digital Service Standard (criteria 9 — make it accessible).

WCAG 2.1 was released in June 2018 and extends WCAG 2.0. Agencies are strongly encouraged to meet WCAG 2.1 which will provide a more accessible experience. Conforming to WCAG 2.1 means you also conform with 2.0.

Content authors are primarily responsible for 17 criteria from WCAG 2.0 and 4 criteria from WCAG 2.1.

Remember — accessibility goes beyond technical requirements

Meeting WCAG is an important step in making content accessible. But the needs of your users may not be met just by conforming with WCAG.

Make sure you do your own research to understand the needs of all your users at every stage.

Only WCAG criteria with content-related aspects are listed in this section. Each WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 criteria is linked to the relevant section of How to meet WCAG.


Only include images on a page if they meet a real user need.

See images and alt text for help.

Image alt text

WCAG criteria 1.1.1 (Level A)

Prepare alt text for images.

Alt text can be included in an HTML page and also in Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and PDF files.

Images of text

WCAG criteria 1.4.5 (Level AA)

Use real text rather than images of text whenever technically possible (logos can be an exception).

Use of colour

WCAG criteria 1.4.1 (Level A)

Make sure that colour is not the only visual means of conveying information in graphs and diagrams.

Text labels and patterns can supplement the use of colour.


Pre-recorded audio files must have a transcript.

Pre-recorded video files must have a transcript, captions and potentially an audio described version.

Read video accessibility for help.

Audio-only and video-only — pre-recorded media

WCAG criteria 1.2.1 (Level A)

Create a transcript that tells the same story and presents the same information as the pre-recorded content.

A production script can be a good starting point.

Read types of content — video for writing tips.

Captions — pre-recorded video

WCAG criteria 1.2.2 (Level A)

Accurate captions must be provided. Don’t rely on auto-captioning options.

Audio description or media alternative — pre-recorded audio

WCAG criteria 1.2.3 (Level A)

At level A, a transcript is a sufficient alternative. At level AA audio description must also be provided.

Audio description — pre-recorded video

WCAG criteria 1.2.5 (Level AA)

Audio description is required for instructional videos to describe the action happening on-screen.

Audio description is usually not required for speeches or interviews, unless the setting is important. A transcript must be provided in this situation.

Sign language — pre-recorded video

WCAG criteria 1.2.6 (Level AAA)

We recommend the inclusion of Auslan for health and safety information and compliance information or situations.

Headings, labels and error messages

Describe and present content in a way that all users can interpret and understand.

Read headings and sub-headings for help.

Information structure

WCAG criteria 1.3.1 (Level AA)

Good heading structure is essential. Headings are used for navigation by some users.

Read content structure for help.

Lists help users skim content.

Use clear row and column headings for tables. This makes it easier to understand tabular information and helps screen readers navigate tables.

Headings, labels and instructions

WCAG criteria 2.4.6 (Level AA), 2.4.10 (Level AAA) and 3.3.2 (Level A)

Headings must clearly describe the topic or the following section. Use section headings to organise the content.

Provide clear labels and instructions with forms. Labels must clearly describe the purpose of the form element.

Error suggestions and help

WCAG criteria 3.3.3 (Level AA) and 3.3.5 (Level AAA)

There are 2 related criteria:

  • The ‘error suggestion’ criteria describes the error the user has made and then adds clarity about what to do to resolve it.
  • The ‘help’ criteria requires clear context sensitive help or instructions if the labels are not clear enough for all users.


Use of colour

WCAG criteria 1.4.1 (Level A)

Make sure that colour is not the only visual way of presenting information.

People with visual impairment may not be able to see colours.


WCAG criteria 1.4.3 (Level AA) and 1.4.6 (Level AAA)

Contrast relates to the level of brightness between the content and the background.

There are different levels of contrast involved in meeting AA and AAA criteria.

Sensory characteristics

WCAG criteria 1.3.3 (Level A)

Don’t rely only on sensory characteristics such as shape, size, visual location, orientation, or sound. For example, don’t say ‘press the round button’ or ‘the button on the right’.

Page title

WCAG criteria 2.4.2 (Level A)

The page title is the first thing a screen reader user will hear so it is important to write a clear title.

Search results usually present the page title so it must clearly describe the page.

WCAG criteria 2.4.4 (Level AA) and 2.4.9 (Level AAA)

The words used in a hyperlink should help the user understand what they are linking to.

Shortcut keys

WCAG 2.1 criteria 2.1.4 (Level A)

If keyboard shortcuts can be turned off or re-mapped (as an alternative to only being active when applicable), then clear instructions for doing this need to be provided.

Reading and comprehension

Content with a good readability level helps users know what to do. This includes users with lower comprehension skills.

Unusual words

WCAG criteria 3.1.3 (Level AAA)

Explain unusual words by providing a glossary.


WCAG criteria 3.1.4 (Level AAA)

Every page should expand all abbreviations and acronyms at their first use.

Reading level

WCAG criteria 3.1.5 (Level AAA)

Plain English is beneficial to all readers, but essential for some.

Level AAA requires a lower secondary education reading level, after removal of proper names and titles (between 12 to 14 years old).

We recommend you aim for age 9 readability level (Australian Year 3 or Year 4). Don’t go above a lower high school reading level.

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