Category Archives: Web Accessibility

Political party web sites fall short

Disabled people often rely on the Internet for information because many other information sources are inaccessible.  They experience accessibility barriers when finding and using information on the web if sites have not been designed and built with accessibility in mind.

Why we audited  political party web sites

“Can we all come to the party” is a report we produced at AccEase to see how easily people with disability can engage with party political websites before the New Zealand election on September 20th. The report says “Voting and participation in the electoral process is a fundamental human right.”

Civil and political rights enshrined in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Bill of Rights and the CRPD all require that rights such as access to the political process and public life need to be implemented immediately. While political parties are private bodies for the purposes of the New Zealand Human Rights Act, they have a moral obligation to provide accessible information for people who may not have access to other sources of information.

Disabled people are 24% of the New Zealand population, and people of voting age will be the majority of that group as children have lower rates of disability than older people, and rates of disability increase with age. Political parties should see that it is in their interest to make sure their information is accessible so people can have the information they need to choose freely.

Some findings

Some of the faults the report identified included:  the lack of an “Accessibility” page to describe features to help a disabled person use the site, a lack of clear alt text explaining images to help blind and screen-reader users access the site, and poor colour contrast on navigation.

Only one site included Sign Language video. Only a few sites included video of any kind. Of these some included captions but none had transcripts.

Keyboard-only users were poorly served. One site provided no access at all; others had various problems.

Over half the sites did not provide an alternative navigation mechanism such as a site map.

Reflections

Since completing the report we have reflected on the experience of auditing the web sites of the political parties. Overall they are no worse than web sites generally. But the benchmark is not high. This is quite frustrating for people who really need accessible web sites as we have had standards now for some years, and the web is full of freely available quality information about accessibility. The current state of the art in New Zealand is not good enough.

The eighty-twenty rule still applies. Accessibility is eighty percent attitude and twenty percent expertise.

While we know that creating an accessible web site is less effort than national door knocking, even allowing for the possible advantages of face-to-face exchange; but it seems a hard message for people to absorb.

Without video, for example, it is just as easy to post an accessible version of a document first. Now with auto captions, which do need checking, video can be easily loaded. Contrast, heading structures and so on are not rocket science. Most accessibility features are relatively straightforward to implement, even for smaller parties with fewer resources.

We hope we have set a useful example of publishing accessibly online.

There is also a summary table of our findings

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Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion, Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

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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Making New Zealand Accessible. Disabled women claim their place

This post is edited notes from a panel presentation in conjunction with the Tirohia mai exhibition at the National Library September 28th 2013. The exhibition marks 120 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.

What does accessibility, in the broadest sense mean to me as a disabled woman? What does it mean to the wider community of disabled women? How can it be improved for all disabled women? What would make the greatest difference?

This exhibition is very important as it begins to give us access to some of our disability herstory 120 years after women in NZ were able to vote. Without the vision of curator Rosslyn Noonan we wouldn’t be there at all so a big thank you to her. The experience of contributing to the exhibition has been exciting, frustrating and moving in equal measure.

Thinking about our history, from nineteenth and early twentieth century institutions where if you were blind you had to ask for permission to marry. Women were locked away for life for behaviour seen as aberrant, or because they were diagnosed as being “congenital idiots”.

Technology and other changes both help and hinder – blind telephonists, mostly women, lost their jobs with technological change and changes to the public service in the late 1980’s. Some never worked again. We have been deinstitutionalised. The “bins” have been emptied. New Zealand Sign Language is a national language. We have all kinds of cool equipment, and our first openly disabled woman MP.  But how much has really changed?

We are still struggling to get good personal care and support, and we are still being abused.

Some disabled women are not “allowed” to mother their children. Disabled girls still struggle to get a good education. Many disabled women live their whole lives in poverty as part of the growing inequality in New Zealand, part of the growing “precariat,” particularly as we age.

There are huge unresolved issues relating to body image, sexuality and the conventions around how a woman looks or should look. We are poorer, less employed, and more prone to intimate partner violence than non-disabled men. We have less access to sexual and reproductive health than non-disabled women, and some particular groups of disabled women have poorer general health than just about anyone else.

We are way behind other developed, and even some developing countries with the lack of attention and systemic indifference given to our concerns as disabled women.

So, for me access is about pretty much everything.

The Oxford Dictionary definition, (paraphrased) describes access as “the right or opportunity to benefit from something,” approach or see someone, to obtain or retrieve, to approach or enter a place.

Accessibility for me means I want access to the same as other women no less, as well as the supports I might need as a disabled women.

Among other things, accessibility means access to information, and physical access. It means being able to read the horrible signage on the Wellington buses. Reading the prices in the Supermarket is another. Health-related info is pretty important. It is an act of revenge when I go for a mammogram to ask about the availability of information in alternative formats? After all why shouldn’t they feel as uncomfortable as I do?

For all disabled women it means access to the support we need as women to enable us to live good, full lives whatever that might mean to us. We need access to the systems and structures that govern our lives, whether it is access to Sign Language in the workplace, or easily accessible information about candidates in the upcoming Local Government elections, a truly accessible voting process and access to standing for public office. I know of one disabled woman standing for a District Health Board. I hope there are others.

It means access to our children and the support we need to mother them and to deal with intimate relationships when they go wrong or where there is violence.

Importantly we also need access to initiatives for and progress made by all women. At present many of us are shut out.

We need access to the policy agenda that sees our interests and rights as women ignored and neglected.

We need access to information and to debates that affect us as disabled women as well as to the environment where these debates take place.

We need access to the women’s research agenda and to the research process itself. Even when research is conducted on our issues, it is frequently conducted from a non-disabled standpoint. It will therefore lack real validity.

We need more access to our own history.

We need access to the tools and resources that can challenge the systemic disadvantage and discrimination we as disabled women encounter on an everyday basis.

We need access to each other, and the skills and gifts and strengths we bring in all our rich diversity and intersectionality.

We need access to structures, tools and resources that will enable us to work on our own issues and choices. Together we can do it all.

We have the Disability Rights Convention, CRPD. with its twin track approach, including all of us and we have the Women’s Convention, CEDAW.

That is all very well. But what will make the greatest difference right now.  Returning to the Tirohia mai exhibition. It has been very difficult to find information about our herstory. I was shocked that we could not even find a good quality photo of Dame Anne Ballin. We have discovered how woefully lacking we are in good quality, recent information about disabled women. It is outrageous that Statistics New Zealand has not produced any comparative disability gender analysis since 1996. This is shameful.

Having good, accessible comparative readily available data is critical for us to make real change. We need a comparative gender report from the current and all future surveys.

Working together on a disabled women’s agenda would also help. Disabled People’s Organisations are full of women. Many of us are leaders there, so how come we are not working on women’s issues. Do we not see them as important?

I was sad that the women’s caucus in the NEC of DPA has been abolished, and that VIEW has lost its founding fervour for change.

Nothing will be handed to us. While we will find allies in different places we have to drive the change ourselves, that is, if we really want it. As disabled women we have to keep saying “Nothing about us without us! and work for change together.

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