Australia adopts Accessible ICT Procurement Standard

Posted on June 09, 2017

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Wayne Hawkins

Disability Policy Advisor

In December 2016 Australia Standards published AS EN 301 549: 2016 ‘Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services’. This new Australian Standard is a direct text adoption of the European Standard EN 301 549.

After many years of lobbying from Australian disability and consumer organisations, disability advocates and researchers a stakeholder working group, with strong support and participation from industry and the Government’s Department of Finance, was formed in early 2016 to investigate developing an Australian Standard for public procurement of accessible ICT. Initial discussions considered a number of alternatives for the development of an Australian Standard including the development of a stand-alone Australian standard, developing a standard using the US Rehabilitation Act Section 508 or the European standard EN 301 549  as a template, and a direct text adoption of the EN 301 549. The working group considered that the most expeditious process was to undertake the direct text adoption of the EN 301 549.

At the time the decision to adopt the EN 301 549 was announced there was wide support across all stakeholder groups with a number of high-profile media outlets carrying the story. The Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann, stated “The Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services establishes a minimum standard to ensure that websites, software and digital devices are accessible…The new standard can be used by all levels of government when determining technical specifications for the procurement of accessible ICT products and services.[1]

Since the adoption of the Standard the Department of Finance has updated the Commonwealth Procurement Rules to include “Where an Australian standard is applicable for goods or services being procured, tender responses must demonstrate the capability to meet the Australian standard, and contracts must contain evidence of the applicable standards” and ” Where applying a standard (Australian, or in its absence, international) for goods or services, relevant entities must make reasonable enquiries to determine compliance with that standard: this includes gathering evidence of relevant certifications; and periodic auditing of compliance by an independent assessor[2]”.

Additionally, State and Local Government bodies are planning to include reference to the Standard in their procurement policies as well as including reference to the Standard in their Disability Access and Inclusion Plans.

The publication of the Standard is particularly timely given that the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency is progressing a ‘digital first’ strategy to streamline and unify access to all Government information and services.

While there is, as yet, no specific policy mandating accessible ICT in public procurement, disability stakeholders and Government personnel are confident that the adoption of the AS EN 301 549 will improve access to government information and services for Australians with disability as well as help to ensure that the Australian Public Service can be an employer of choice for Australians with disability.

[1] Access to technology made easier ^

[2] Commonwealth Procurement Rules ^