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As a customer experience (UX) researcher I firmly believe talking directly to real people in the community provides the rare and rich opportunity to gain insights.

Our new user experience research, Digital inclusion user insights — Disabled people, focuses on the experience that disabled people have online.

As author of this report, I’d say the overall story is that things need to change.

Challenge for decision makers and practitioners

The leadership challenge for decision makers in government is to ramp up efforts to better champion accessibility.

The professional opportunity for service designers and web developers is to learn more about accessibility, improve our practices and involve more disabled people in the work we do.

The research findings

Key findings from the research highlight:

  • a need to enforce or incentivise the application of the Web Accessibility Standard
  • a call to increase the co-design of accessible, digital services
  • a strong demand for digital skills training from within the disability community
  • demand from the disabled community for affordable access to digital tools and technology
  • a call to explore employment and post-employment support for the disabled community.

Insights into access, motivation, skills and trust

The report also offers insights into the 4 key elements that contribute to digital inclusion: access, motivation, skills and trust (as outlined in the government’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint).

Access

For example, disabled people told us that many issues of access would be solved if government decision makers, service designers and web developers were prepared to play their part in promoting and meeting the existing Web Accessibility Standard. 

Given this wasn’t the case, they wanted incentives or penalties introduced to ensure widespread adherence to the standard and a change in attitudes and behaviour.

Motivation

Many disabled people told us they were highly motivated to go online. Many saw the internet as a tool for living rich, inclusive and fulfilling lives. 

With access to the internet and the range of digital tools available, disabled people would be in a better position to participate in society, achieve independence, receive an education and access new employment opportunities. 

However, too many barriers related to affordability, skills and access stood in their way.

Skills

Interviewees also spoke about the need for skills training, yet some disabled people also felt the need for digital skills would lessen if the internet was more accessible and inclusive to start with.

Trust

Finally, on the issue of trust, interviewees from the disabled community told us they were limited in their ability to solve problems associated with fraud, dishonesty and poor online security due to the general inaccessibility of the online world. 

As disabled people interacting with an inaccessible online world, they found it difficult to search and verify information for themselves.

Poor labelling of buttons and too little use of alternative text were just some of the barriers to checking information and making informed decisions related to trust.

The research approach

As the lead researcher, I worked with DIA’s small team of UX researchers over a period of 7 weeks to interview a cross-section of disabled people and the organisations that represent them.

Face-to-face, telephone and online interviews explored the individual thoughts, feelings and experiences of 21 disabled people online. We spoke to stay-at-home parents and guardians, gamers, disabled rights advocates and community support leaders, just to name a few. These interviews explored the lived experience of people who are engaged with the digital world. 

Interviews with 6 representative organisations explored issues involved with being online and touched on some of the issues related to those people within the disability community who aren’t typically online.

The qualitative data was then collated, analysed and grouped into themes. Tangible insights for government decision makers, service designers and web developers emerged.

Now, it’s time to publish what we found and share these important insights with the people who most need to know about them.

I’d like to thank everyone who spent time with us and shared your thoughts and feelings about the online world. Some of you expressed frustration at having told government agencies the same messages before. We’d like to acknowledge that.

Why do we need user experience research?

Collecting real life stories is an effective method to get to the core of difficult issues. This quote about digital inclusion is particularly powerful:

We need a culture of acceptance. We need everyone to embrace accessibility and see it as important as online security. People need to understand that anything else is exclusion. 

Who can argue with that? 

Or how about this comment about digital skills from one of our interviewees?

The baseline levels of digital knowledge, access and skills are getting higher and higher. As time goes on, the people already left behind will get further left behind.

In government, I believe we need both personal narratives and hard (quantitative) data to develop policy that’s both empathetic and effective.

We need a range of data to change practice (where it needs changing) and, in this case, bring about a more inclusive digital world. 

The fact is the internet and the digital services it hosts are vital for all of us in our daily lives. If we didn’t know this before the global pandemic, we definitely know it now.

That’s why the Digital Inclusion Programme team has embarked on a programme of user insight research into the experiences, thoughts and feelings of the New Zealanders most likely to face digital exclusion. 

This report is the first of 7 reports due out between now and July 2021. 

The others will explore the user experience of Māori, Pacific people, people in social housing, seniors, people who are under- or un-employed, and people living in remote communities.

These groups were identified in the Motu Economic and Public Policy 2019 report — Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand.

Where to from here

To me — and the disabled people we spoke to for this report — change seems the best and only option. I encourage you to read the full report and to think about how real change can be made. 

Ask yourself:

Added up, this report and the interviews that sit behind its findings offer readers just a tiny window into the many digital inclusion issues for disabled people.

These issues aren’t entirely new. But raising them now — as the country begins to recover from the global pandemic and work out what role the digital world plays — is timely.

I believe the real difference will be made when we begin to realise that change needs to start with you, me and the wider digital, tech, government, design and developer community.

It’s up to us to unlock the door to the online world and to make it truly accessible for everyone.

Join the Digital Inclusion Blueprint conversation

Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in digital inclusion by subscribing to our mailing list.

For more information on the Digital Inclusion Blueprint or to get in touch, check out:

You can also email the team at digitalinclusion@dia.govt.nz

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