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Government action on accessibility to ramp up next year

Government action on accessibility to ramp up next year

Last month brought some exciting news for those of us interested in accessibility issues, with disabilities issues minister Carmel Sepuloni announcing the formation of a new Ministry for Disabled People.

This should give us hope for a more equitable digital experience for all.

In a nutshell, the transformation includes establishing:

- An independent Ministry for Disabled People

- An Accessibility Governance Board run by people with disabilities, their allies and whānau

- The Enabling Good Lives programme across Aotearoa

- Accessibility legislation

The transformation means a move away from a health focus to a more social or people-focused model for disabled people. Hopefully, this will help highlight the issues and encourage the removal of barriers so that disabled people can have a more equitable experience in life, work, play,
education and technology.

Poor interface design a barrier

With more and more of life, work, play and education moving online, this is incredibly timely. With cheques no longer accepted by banks, many disabled people who relied on those cheques as the only accessible option have yet another barrier to get over. Companies closing their doors and Covid restrictions are also forcing more and more transactions online. Websites with poor interface design are then posing additional barriers to people with disabilities.

With business and Government transforming their offering to digital, being aware of and removing those technology barriers is much more important.
This exciting news about a new ministry gives us huge hope that businesses will be held accountable for creating, or perpetuating, barriers they create for people with disabilities. The Accessibility legislation could be introduced as early as July 2022 which would move New Zealand much closer to a model where businesses will need to be aware of the barriers they are causing through poor interface design.

The proposed legislation will initially cover just Government websites, but will hopefully expand to include private business as well. The Access Alliance, who have campaigned for years to get an accessibility law, believe more is needed. The report released by the New Zealand Law Foundation also calls for robust process and legislation.

Legal implications

While the proposal could go much further, now is definitely the time to be considering what the implications are for any business. The introduction of an accessibility law increases the risk of businesses being sued and having a damaged reputation if they are not complying with the regulations. For example, in the United States there has been a huge increase in the number of lawsuits against companies, large and small, whose websites aren't meeting the requirements.

As more people become aware of their right to complain and are given the tools and support to reach out, more situations will arise where New Zealand organisations and businesses will be publicly held accountable for not thinking about digital accessibility. For businesses, now is the time to get familiar with whether your digital services comply with the guidelines. It is also time to learn more about what your organisation can do to make things better.

Doing something about your digital accessibility will reduce your risk, reduce your costs and maintain or even improve your reputation. But even more importantly, it is the right thing to do to make a more equitable experience for people with disabilities.

Dr Chandra Harrison is the managing director of Access Advisors, a leading New Zealand owned and operated digital accessibility consultancy.


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