Submission to Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill
Access Advisors believe that this piece of legislation, as it currently stands, is a bit like an inaccessible website with poor design and poor coding, it is really not much use for disabled people or those trying to support them. Read on for our submission to the select committee.
Part 1: Access Advisors
Access Advisors is a digital accessibility consultancy which provides digital accessibility training, advice, reviews and assistance to a variety of government and non-government organisations as well as private corporations and smaller businesses across Aotearoa, New Zealand. We see and hear stories daily about the lack of digital accessibility in Aotearoa New Zealand. We help companies improve their digital accessibility.
Access Advisors has been operating officially in the accessibility space in New Zealand since 2017, with many years of ad hoc consultancy via Blind Low Vision NZ prior to that. Individually, several of the team have been operating in the accessibility space for 20+ years. Our team have a variety of education and experience, including our Managing Director having a PhD in Human Computer Interaction and several of us have 20+ years working in accessibility both nationally and internationally (US, UK, EU and Philippines).
We employ disabled people both in our core team and across research projects for our clients. This ensures lived experience is at the heart of all the advice we offer. We care about the communities and digital access, we are connected to many of the communities and we have significant business competence. All of this gives us an invested interest in this legislation and a clear view of what has happened in other countries.
Our position on this subject is unique as we are at the intersection between people with accessibility rights and the companies which produce digital products, services and information. We find digital barriers in most products but we cannot enforce Company A to fix these barriers, we can only encourage.
Part 2: Access Advisors’ position
Access Advisors believe that this piece of legislation, as it currently stands, is a bit like an inaccessible website with poor design and poor coding, it is really not much use for disabled people or those trying to support them. It is also not useful for the companies trying to make and sell digital products here or overseas. And it isn’t much use for us as a company to help reinforce the obligations that organisations should have to ensuring digital accessibility across all aspects of their business.
In our professional experience, we strongly believe that the legislation as it is currently proposed isn’t going to improve digital accessibility in New Zealand. In fact, it seems unlikely to improve accessibility or the plight of disabled people in general. We do not find this bill in its current form acceptable for the following reasons.
With regards to UN-CRPD
The recent UN Review of our progress towards the UN-CRPD resulted in some serious areas that need improvement. Article 9 of the convention, states that a very important indicator for accessibility is the enactment of legislation that ensures accessibility. Nothing in the proposed legislation outlines how we will ensure these rights are met digitally. What as a company at the coal face can we use to “ensure” tech companies fix these barriers we find? We need enforceable legislation to help encourage businesses to do the mahi necessary.
Lack of Consultation
The Bill has suffered from a lack of government-led consultation with the wider disability community and their allies. Access Alliance and DPA provided guidance but little of this seems to have been heard or implemented into the legislation. As a supplier of accessibility services, we would have been thrilled to have provided thoughts and advice on the topic. The Law Society provided a report that could have been repurposed to become the legislation. Access Advisors believes that the current legislation does not go far enough to support the disabled communities, accessibility service providers or the organisations we support. More consultation is needed.
The proposed legislation does not add anything that is not already covered in New Zealand government’s Accessibility Charter and Human Rights Act. This bill does not help define what the rights people with disabilities have in New Zealand. The legislation does not give any clear path for people who experience accessibility barriers to express their rights. How can someone complain? Are they within their rights to do so? Currently this is a very subjective and difficult process which does not provide equity to those who have disability rights under UN conventions.
The proposed bill puts the burden on the disability community to identify and follow-up the removal of the barriers. This is especially un-equitable. Article 9 of the UN: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the initiative and onus should be on the state to remove barriers to accessibility. The Human Rights Act already provides this opportunity.
Lack of NZ standards, that align with international best-practice, does both our disabled citizens and our software/hardware manufacturers a disservice. Clear, enforceable standards, which exist in the form of the Government Web Standards should be implemented now across the board.
Alignment with other countries
We would very much like to see robust and comprehensive accessibility legislation that is in alignment with other countries from around the world. Australia, UK, Europe, US and Canada all have robust legislation that facilitates disabled people to make their needs heard by holding business and organisations to account for a lack of accessibility. The process is clear, robust, comprehensive and accountable. Many of these countries have had robust, comprehensive and enforceable legislation for many years. New Zealand is lagging behind.
We also believe that New Zealand companies who want to sell their digital solutions offshore are at a disadvantage because we have no robust local legislation in place to ensure they focus on digital accessibility. New Zealand software companies are creating fabulous products but when they try to sell overseas they often face major issues with having to rework their software to comply to international standards.
If Company A wants to go “offshore” they must comply to the UN-CRPD. New Zealand’s digital accessibility maturity is lacking in the tech industry, this is driven by a lack of government policy in New Zealand. The tech sector is wasting large portions of their budgets having to retrofit the required technology to get up to international standards required.
This is a very inefficient way to build software and puts companies at risk of being sued if they decide to go ahead with the standards not being met. Ultimately this gives the local start-up companies a huge disadvantage over their competitors. We already have the W3C digital frameworks in place. We just have no mechanism of enforcement, and this will continue under this proposed new bill. If we have robust, comprehensive and enforceable legislation here, then they would be encouraged to think about accessibility from the start rather than having to spend large amounts on retrofitting. This would greatly benefit our tech sector success.
Employment in Tech
In New Zealand we are struggling to recruit suitable staff for many roles. We know that disabled people are one of the underrepresented groups in tech roles. There are many fixable accessibility barriers for disabled New Zealanders that restrict their ability to apply for, be employed for and thrive in paid employment, especially in the tech industry. With the Digital Strategy just released and the Industry Transformation Plan for the IT sector, now is a perfect time to be ensuring that disabled people are empowered to work in digital. This is unlikely to happen without robust, comprehensive and enforceable standards such as those used elsewhere in the world.
Part 3: Suggested Changes
Firstly, and most importantly, have a democratic consultation with the wider disability community and their allies. We are also keen to be involved in consultation about how the legislation will be enforced as this will directly impact our business.
We suggest that the NZ Government:
- Re-write the legislation to be more robust, comprehensive and enforceable.
- Articulate the rights of people with disabilities.
- Define the standards frameworks to make those rights real and actionable.
- Clearly define the mechanism for enforcing the standards with the community.
We do not find this bill acceptable in its current form, and we would like the government to lead an open consultative process with disabled people and their allies about what is needed, and rewrite it to be more robust, more comprehensive and enforceable.
Dr Chandra Harrison (She/Her)
On behalf of the wider team at Access Advisors