Digital transformation in pandemic excluding those with access needs - advocate

6:20 pm on 17 July 2020

Accessibility advocates are worried the speed at which some companies are going digital will shut out a large market share, which could be worth up to $12 billion.

Blind person using computer with braille keyboard. Visual impairment, independent life concept.

Person using braille computer (File image). Photo: 123RF

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.

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