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Concerns Raised Over Australian Mobile News Service

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has failed to adequately address accessibility problems with its new mobile web news service, one of the country’s leading accessibility analysts has told E-Access Bulletin.

Tom Worthington, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University, examined ‘ABC Mobile’ (
http://www.abc.net.au/innovation/mobile/ )
for accessibility on its launch. In a report posted to his blog, he said: “The home page does not appear to have been designed in accordance with guidelines for web accessibility for the disabled, and may be unlawful. The site also fails several mobile phone and other web guidelines.” One of the key faults had been with a lack of proper alternative text tags for information conveyed as images, he said.

Following Worthington’s initial comments, the ABC took action to address accessibility concerns. In a public response to Worthington’s comments, the corporation’s Chris Winter said his organisation was working to comply with WAI guidelines, and had updated the home page with alt tags integrated so text-to-speech software can now recognise most images for visually impaired people.

Worthington’s original comments and the ABC response can be read on his blog at:
http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/2009/03/abc-mobile-web-site-failed.html

However, Worthington has now told E-Access Bulletin the changes do not go far enough.
“If anything, the web site appears to be less compliant than it was when first released,” he said. “Senior management need to make sure they get advice from competent staff. The ABC has competent web designers, as shown by their main web site. But these staff do not appear to have been consulted on the mobile web site.”

Much of the academic’s concern centres around the potential of mobile news services to act as early warning systems in major emergencies, such as the recent Australian bushfires. But in a recent talk on the subject Worthington warned that if services were not accessible they could not act as effective emergency warnings:
http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/bushfire_warning_system/

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