Category Archives: Accessible Engagement

Website access: A few basics.

Accessibility of any kind is really about eighty percent attitude and the other twenty percent know how.  When it comes to web accessibility the same applies. If you want to do it you can. Your web site is usually your front door to the world so make sure everyone can use it in the way that suits them, not the way it suits you and your brand advisers.

It takes a bit of thinking and planning, but the web is full of good and practical advice. In honour of Global Accessibility Awareness Day I have summarised a few basics to get you started.

The list does not guarantee an accessible web site, but if you do all of these things you will be on your way.

  • Accessibility should be part of all design considerations and plans from the outset.
  • Information on the web should be in accessible HTML.
  • Navigation should be clear, easy to follow and consistent, not changing in structure from page to page.
  • Web pages should be laid out clearly with correct mark up for headings structures and links etc
  • Use “alt” text to provide meaningful descriptions of images and graphics.
  • Colour contrast should be high, at least 70%. There are a number of free tools to test for this. Avoid hot colours.
  • Audio or audio-visual material should be captioned or have transcripts.
  • Pages should still be useable when images are turned off and when pages are enlarged to twice their normal size.
  • Pages should be usable by keyboard only.
  • You can upload audio files and Sign Language video, providing the same information in a range of formats.
  • Avoid using blinking text, throbbing, pulsing or flashing graphics or buttons.
  • Include a site map to help with navigation.
  • Use tagged files optimised for accessibility, both Word and PDF.
  • Regularly audit your site  to make sure you maintain accessibility.

Your users will thank you.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.”


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New Zealand Sign Language: A cultural treasure

A rather late very happy New Year to all readers of Low Visionary.  May 2014 bring real progress on disability rights and accessibility all over the world.

Prompted by recent spirited discussion about the decline of New Zealand Sign Language,  and the equally spirited continuing debate about cochlear implants, here is my perspective on the value of New Zealand Sign Language in the New Zealand context.

I should say at the outset that I am not Deaf. Nor can I communicate in New Zealand Sign Language. The visual, spatial qualities inherent to it are beyond my visual capacity. I do know how to work with a Sign Language interpreter though. Since meeting the New Zealand Deaf community many years ago I have been fascinated by their language and history, as well as getting to know some great people.

Over those years I have learned a great deal, joined in with the celebrations of Deaf community victories, and supported their campaigns for access. The Deaf community are articulate, confident, outward looking, and one of the most creative communities around.

It is sad that, although New Zealand Sign Language is one of our official languages, it does not seem to be recognised widely as a national treasure. This was brought into sharp focus for me recently when thinking about Sign Language while working on an arts accessibility project.

Sign Languages should be treasured as precious cultural artefacts in their own right. In some settings they are. In 1993 I watched a riveting and inclusive one woman theatre performance in American Sign Language at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. Closer to home in 1996, along with other international conference attendees in Auckland, I watched, spellbound, a skilled interpreter yodel, (in NZ Sign Language) along with the Topp Twins. She was as much a star as they were. I have attended other Signed performances, watched Sign singers, lots of Sign Language interpreted meetings and gatherings and enjoyed Deaf humour.

Yet more than twenty years after my first Deaf cultural encounter, and long after New Zealand Sign Language has become an official language, when I visit the web site of Te Papa Tongarewa,  our national cultural storehouse I find no trace of New Zealand Sign Language. There is lots of Maori content, probably not enough, and information in seven other languages besides English and Maori. Is it because being Deaf is associated with deficit rather than with language and culture? Is providing Sign Language seen as a cost which will add little value, rather than as a celebration of the linguistic and cultural heritage of a unique New Zealand community? How about providing information accessibly to New Zealand citizens who are entitled to it?

Kudos to the National Library which has recognised the importance of New Zealand Sign Language and decided that all exhibitions will be introduced in all our national languages. Kudos also to the theatres and arts organisations that have recognised and included Deaf language and culture in their work.  Others need to follow these examples. They could start by joining the activities during Sign Language Week celebrated in May each year.

The New Zealand National Anthem in New Zealand Sign Language, English and Maori. The video is an example of our three national languages, all of which are part of our history and culture.

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People First New Zealand Celebrates tenth anniversary

Sometime the community of disabled people is so busy fighting battles that we forget the gains we have made, and don’t give ourselves the cbanner-10-yrredit or the time to celebrate. Happily a recent celebration was an exception. We celebrated the tenth birthday of People First New Zealand as an independent organisation.

As I lislogo-PF2v2tened to the learning disabled members, advocates and officers of People First speaking, and generally running things, I was taken back to my childhood, when people with learning disabilities were mocked, not seen as “real people” and often “put away” in the depersonalised language of the day, as if they were objects you could literally put away somewhere and forget about. And people did. Contemporaries of mine have sometimes discovered they had siblings of whose existence they were totally unaware.

But out of all this came a movement, led by learning disabled people themselves. They demanded recognition and rights, from the grassroots right up to the United Nations. When I was first involved in the disability rights movement, to my shame, people with learning disabilities were not included, sometimes actively excluded. Now the last of the big institutions are closed, and learning disabled people are taking their rightful place at the disabled people’s rights table.

A selection of People First’s achievements over ten years, in no particular order;

  • Changing language from “intellectual disability” to “learning disability”
  • Working on the successful repeal of the discriminatory Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act
  • Lobbying and marching for closing the big institutions, Kimberley was the last to go.
  • Members addressed international conferences and gave some stunning presentations at home.
  • Robert Martin was the first person with a learning disability to address the United Nations during negotiations for the Disability Rights Convention, (CRPD). I was there. It was a great, very moving speech.
  • A DVD about voting was made with the Electoral Commission
  • Employment advocates were trained. The award-winning world first Easy Read Individual Employment Agreement, satisfying all legal requirements, was produced.
  • People First is an important member of the CRPD monitoring mechanism, the Convention Coalition Monitoring Group, with other disabled people’s organisations, (DPOs)

There is still much to be done, but together we can do it all. The disability community joined People First to celebrate at Parliament, and to launch the new logo, web site and Facebook page. Later there was a full-on party where again people with learning disabilities were in charge, including the music.

Thanks People First for including us all in the celebrations. May the next ten years be even better!

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Making complaints processes accessible

This post is taken from a presentation given at the third Disability Conference; Another complaint, another Improvement. Why is it so Difficult to complain? Making your complaints processes more accessible.

It has not been in the Kiwi DNA to complain, and especially not disabled people, at least not to complain formally, but we are learning fast in the post Human Rights Act, Health and Disability Commissioner Act and the United Nations Convention on the rights of people with Disabilities (CRPD), even the post-Fair Go environment. Disabled people are finding and using their voices to complain, or as one speaker put it, to speak out.

Why complaints are critical in a human rights environment

It is critical that service providers complaints processes are accessible. Complaints lead to service improvements and contribute to achieving human rights for disabled people. An important element of human rights is that people must be able to complain and seek redress when things go wrong.

People will share their stories of bad experiences widely, in their communities and on social and general media, and these stories can be harmful to your organisation and reputations. The media are becoming more interested and are increasingly taking such stories seriously, especially in light of recent high profile abuse cases.

The social media go on regardless. If you are not participating in social media you don’t know what people are saying about you. While this raises questions about time and resourcing for smaller organisations, monitoring, careful management and innovative ways of keeping tabs through social media are important.

Beyond Charity

We are well beyond the charitable days when people who received services from disability support organisations had to be constantly grateful and say thank you for everything, and be grateful for anything, no matter what quality. Of course that does not mean that we should not appreciate good service.

Attitude is all

It is all about attitude, to taking complaints, and to service users. The glass can be half empty or half full on both counts. Respect for service users and their right to take complaints is fundamental. Well-meaning words on paper are not enough. You have to walk the talk.

Complaints should be seen positively, as a means of improving relationships, learning and making positive change and providing better services. Complaints are helpful.

Accessibility is a broad issue and a strategic one.

Some of the issues underpinning accessibility are about how comfortable and confident people feel about complaining, and the same is true about those who receive complaints.

Complaints processes are all about openness and good communication at every level. The organisational culture that values community connectedness and processes with integrity will be more accessible than one that does not. An open, accessible, accountable culture building strong trustful relationships with those who use the services will contribute to an organisation where people feel they can speak out when things go wrong.

Speaking out may happen differently for different people. Listening also takes different forms. Recognition of these differences is important.

Best practice

It is ironic that when researching this presentation I found some information on ‘so called’ accessible complaints procedures available in inaccessible pdfs! Happily they were not New Zealand disability support organisations.

But I did find it quite hard to locate complaints processes on several disability service provider web sites I looked at, and very easy and clear on one other. Some were not overly welcoming, for example one large provider did not have an online form, giving an email address only. This can be confusing because it may open a new version of the email program which is annoying and a usability problem. To avoid opening a new version I had to cut and paste the address.  A well designed and accessible online form can also ask some helpful questions. The more options for complaints the better.

Knowing about and being comfortable with the process

People don’t always know how to complain, the way the process works, and how to complain appropriately. They may be afraid of the consequences of making a complaint.

There are also some underlying general factors which affect the accessibility of complaints systems. They apply across the board, but have particular resonance for the situation of disabled people. If you need a service, and your provider is the only game in town you may feel particularly vulnerable if you complain. It is necessary for providers to understand and compensate for this particular power in-balance.

Develop and implement an accessibility policy

There are some important strategic considerations needed before thinking about a complaints process. One very important one is an accessibility policy. This should cover everything in the organisation from physical to electronic access. It should have associated guidance and standards.

For a process to be accessible and actually work complainants need to;

  • Be taken seriously and treated respectfully
  • Be heard
  • Be safe and not be victimised for complaining

Make it easy to complain.

If like the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy your complaints process is on the equivalent of Alpha Centauri it will all be pointless. Make your complaints process easy to find and inclusive. Accept complaints in a variety of ways. If you don’t they will get around anyway through social media and word of mouth and possibly become distorted.

If complaints can be made by letter or in writing only, many people, even those who are perfectly literate and able to write a letter will find it difficult to complain because they may be upset or stressed at the time they want to complain.

Complaints and related correspondence should be accepted in a number of different ways including

  • in person – face to face
  • over the phone or Internet, including by the Relay Service
  • online forms
  • in writing via email, fax and letter
  • Access should be provided to translating and interpreting services for non-English speaking people.
  • Complaints in Maori and New Zealand Sign Language should be accepted.
  • Complaints from Pacific Peoples should also be welcomed.

Accessibility should include access for children and older people as well as for the range of disabled people.

The reason I take such a broad approach to accessible complaints is that, even if your organisation provides services to a defined group of disabled people, you can’t assume they won’t have other impairments or identities, or that their whanau or support people won’t have other impairments or be from a variety of ethnic groups. People and families are complex, and have complex and rich identities which we ignore at our peril

Getting started.

  • Complaints are Strategic Complaints, and the way they are processed are strategic, part of your PR and communication strategy. You need policy, guidance and robust procedures
  • Have an accessibility policy with implementation guidance for staff
  • How to complain Service users must know they can complain and be supported independently if necessary
  • Make your complaints process easy to find, or people might think they can’t complain, or that complaints are unwelcome. They won’t complain if it is too hard.
  • If complaints are easy to make, you are more likely to get some good ideas and avoid people taking to the law or to the media.
  • Have a variety of ways to complain and clearly communicate their availablity
  • Structure the process so it asks questions to help the complainant, and you, clearly identify the problem complained about, and what they would like to happen as a remedy
  • If people need support to complain, make it clear they can bring a support person of their choice
  • Empower all staff to take complaints, invaluable in very small organisations.
  • Any written material should be in plain everyday language and not include confusing legal terms or jargon. Many disabled people have poor literacy. Easy Read may be an option too.
  • Make sure your web site is accessible and has an easy to find, accessible online complaints form, along with other alternatives. Some people find it easier to complain online.
  • Your buildings should be properly accessible, regardless of the service.
  • Make sure you provide relevant material in formats other than pdf.
  • Your staff should know how to use the Relay Service and frontline staff could take a Sign Language taster class during Sign Language Week or classes offered in their communities.
  • Check people’s requirements for communication when they complain.
  • Have toll free numbers if your services are offered beyond the free call area.
  • Use social media to take complaints and always respond when people do, a good reason why you should be active and involved in social media.
  • Remember not everyone has access to email or the web.
  • Timely attention to complaints and their resolution is critical. Having some internal standards might be useful.
  • Analysis of complaints and a feedback loop should take into account how well you are doing all of the above as well as the type of complaints you are receiving.

Accessibility is a journey. Make it an enjoyable and rewarding one for everyone.

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