Navigation for News Categories
Person using braille computer (File image).
Minnie Baragwanath, who is legally blind, from the company Be. Lab said the Covid-19 lockdown forced companies and services to go online, exacerbating the digital divide for those with access needs – like sight or hearing disorders.
“My own ability to operate in this world has been unbelievably, outrageously difficult… and with Covid and the amplification of online services, that has heightened the fact that if you can access the digital world that’s great but if you can’t the barriers to online shopping, paying your bills, all of that has just increased.”
She said companies should be designing their services to accommodate those with access needs, such as making sure their website was compatible with screen readers or audio tools.
“If we are not designing accessibility into every design choice we make, a policy, a service, a product, a law, whatever it is… then we’re actually designing it out,” Baragwanath said.
“The default setting is not benign, the default setting is inaccessible for a lot of people… it’s 2020 and there’s just no excuse anymore.”
It also made economic sense – with one in four New Zealanders having some form off access requirement, Baragwanath said.
“It means up to 25 percent of your customer base will be able to get online and access your services.
“I had an incident the other day where I wanted to book a skip, and I went onto the website… had real trouble navigating it so I thought I’d just ring them.
“I said I’m partially blind and I can’t see your website, and the woman said ‘I can’t help you it’s all on our website’, so they just lost a sale.”
She said she also had problems paying her water bill over the lockdown period and was threatened with having her water cut off.
“It can be terrible but, when it’s done well an accessible world is so liberating.”
Baragwanath said almost half of New Zealanders with access needs were unemployed or underemployed. She would like to see a complete redesign of how New Zealand planned to resource and innovate to make the most of those people.
“There needs to be stronger regulations but I’d love to see a real review of the full digital environment,” she said.
“Access to websites is just one part … personally I’m just struggling to get the technology I need to access a computer.
“The supposedly neutral design position isn’t neutral, it’s exclusionary.”
Be. Lab offers tools and advice for businesses to be accessible.
Get the RNZ app
for ad-free news and current affairs
Send your news and stories to us email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and WhatsApp: +447747873668.
Before you go...
Democratic norms are being stress-tested all over the world, and the past few years have thrown up all kinds of questions we didn't know needed clarifying – how long is too long for a parliamentary prorogation? How far should politicians be allowed to intervene in court cases? To monitor these issues as closely as we have in the past we need your support, so please consider donating to The Climax News Room.