Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is an international event to get everyone thinking about accessibility. To mark the day, the Digital Public Service branch hosted a forum to share insights about improving digital services in the public sector.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day
18 May 2023 was a particularly exciting occasion for the Digital Public Service branch — it was Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)! It’s an international event held every year on the third Thursday of May.
GAAD is all about raising the profile of accessibility — to get us all thinking about how we can design a world that works better for disabled people.
Government Digital Accessibility Forum
To mark this day, we hosted the Government Digital Accessibility Forum for public servants to share their experiences and insights about creating an accessible digital public service.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) worked together to create this event. We had roughly 160 public servants attend across various agencies.
Asking ourselves the question
We also created digital signage for GAAD around the office, calling on all Te Tari Taiwhenua kaimahi to ask themselves the following question:
Is what I’m building accessible for disabled people?
If we all asked this question of ourselves a bit more often, I think we’d have a far more accessible world. A world where disabled people don’t have to battle against unnecessary barriers during their daily lives.
The impact of accessibility
For disabled people, facing unnecessary accessibility barriers can be an incredibly frustrating, and exhausting experience. There are so many examples of this happening.
- An important video lacks captions.
- A web page is poorly designed and can’t be read aloud by a computer.
- A community space lacks wheelchair access.
- You’ve been waiting months for a movie to be released, but it has no audio description.
The barriers we have built
Some of the worst barriers occur when filling out important government forms — a lack of accessibility here can remove your independence, autonomy and privacy. Sometimes, the only option is to ask a stranger for help.
These barriers are present in both our built environment and our digital environment — both can have drastic impacts for disabled people.
We can remove the barriers
But don’t despair! The important thing is, we can remove these barriers from society. If we designed these barriers in, we can design them out.
To help design a more accessible world, we have standards that can help. And if we meet these standards, we can be reasonably confident disabled people will be able to use those systems independently.
Many government agencies have been obligated to meet the Web Accessibility Standard since 2003 and the Human Rights Act already prohibits disability discrimination generally.
What we’re doing to help
At Te Tari Taiwhenua, and through the Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO), we have a special role in Government to provide leadership for digital. A big part of this is making sure the digital environments we build can be used by all New Zealanders.
Why is web accessibility important
Soft music plays in the background.
At the top of a black screen is the logo for Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa New Zealand Government. Underneath the logo is the text ‘Why is web accessibility important?’.
Cut to Callum McMenamin. On-screen text reads ‘Callum McMenamin, Principal Advisor Accessibility, Hīkina Whakatutuki, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’.
Callum McMenamin: “I spend a lot of time on the internet, you know, in my job and in my personal life, and I encounter a wide range of how accessible those systems are. There are some systems that I basically can’t use at all.”
Cut to Daniel Harborne. On-screen text reads ‘Daniel Harborne, NZSL Information and Resources Team Leader, Deaf Aotearoa’.
[Daniel Harborne uses New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Here, he communicates through an NZSL interpreter who translates between NZSL and English.]
Daniel Harborne (in NZSL): “If information is relevant to me — I’m a New Zealand citizen, I’m living here — I should be able to expect at bare minimum that there would be captions to videos.”
Cut to a black screen. On the left half of the screen is a blue circle. One quarter of the circle changes colour to yellow. To the right, symbols for visual, hearing, mobility and learning impairments are displayed in sequence.
Narrator: Almost a quarter of New Zealanders self-identify as disabled. They have one or more long term visual, hearing, mobility or learning impairments.
Cut to Paul James. On-screen text reads ‘Paul James, Government Chief Digital Officer, Chief Executive, Digital Public Service, Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs’.
Paul James: “New Zealanders with disabilities are our whānau, they’re our kaimahi and they’re our customers. So we provide, as New Zealand government, information and services to New Zealanders and they have an entitlement to that information and services as well.”
Cut to Ann-Marie Cavanagh. On-screen text reads ‘Ann-Marie Cavanagh, Deputy Chief Executive, Digital Public Service, Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs’.
Ann-Marie Cavanagh: “We know that over half of New Zealanders over 65 are disabled, so it’s critical that we make sure that our content that’s delivered through our online channels is easily accessible and that we’re not excluding those communities or those parts of the New Zealand community.”
Cut to footage of a blind person using a computer with a refreshable braille display.
Narrator: “Disabled people often use special hardware and software called assistive technologies that help them access and interact with web content. Sometimes disabled people need content to be in a certain format, such as captions on a video or sign language translation.”
Cut to Daniel Harborne (in NZSL): “And I thought with the COVID situation, when they brought the interpreters on and they were talking about, tonight we’re going to be locking down the country, you know, things are going to be closing. I remember thinking, okay, I need to go and get some food. I quickly dashed out, went to the supermarket, made sure I had enough food. If I hadn’t had an interpreter on screen at that time and I had to read it in the newspaper the next day, or watch the 6 o’clock news the next day to finally have access to know that everything shut, I would have then gone to the supermarket and the shelves would have been empty by then.”
Cut to footage of a web browser navigating from a page on the NZ Government Web Standards, to a page on the Web Accessibility Standard, to the W3C’s page on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1.
Narrator: “The New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Standard requires that public service departments make their websites accessible. This means that each web page needs to meet the internationally recognised Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the W3C.”
Cut to Ann-Marie Cavanagh: “So it would be important, I think, for agencies to ensure that as you’re building out your digital service delivery and your online service delivery to really start from the get-go to include those New Zealanders with disabilities in that co-creation process.”
Cut to Paul James: “It’s really important that leaders and everyone involved in this work takes a sense of responsibility and obligation to make sure that we do hit those standards of accessibility so that all New Zealanders, including those with disabilities, can access the information and services.”
Cut to Callum McMenamin: “I don’t think everything’s ever going to be perfect. I think it’s always going to take constant effort to make things accessible in the same way it takes constant effort to make information secure and to respect privacy regulations. It takes constant effort, constant expertise. I don’t think there’s going to be a lack of work any time soon.”
Cut to a black screen. At the bottom is the logo for Te Tari Taiwhenua Department of Internal Affairs. Above the logo is the text “learn more at digital.govt.nz”.
Fade to black.
How we are improving accessibility
In the Digital Public Service branch, we have a lot of exciting projects that aim to improve accessibility across the government, including the:
- Web Accessibility Guidance Project — developing a place where web practitioners can get advice on digital accessibility.
- Web Standards clinics — running fortnightly Web Standards clinics, where people across the public and private sector can meet up and get answers to their accessibility questions.
- Centralised Web Accessibility Checker (CWAC) — developing methods of measuring accessibility levels across the system with the CWAC.
- Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 — maintaining the New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Standard.
Establishing a network led by disabled employees
There is also a new network led by disabled employees being established across Te Tari Taiwhenua. This network aims to provide a sense of community, and to advocate for improved inclusion and accessibility for disabled people in employment. I’m so excited for what the future of this network will bring.
Find out more
So, that’s just a short description of some of the things we’re doing to improve accessibility. We’re seeing progress in important areas, and I’m confident that digital accessibility will continue to improve.
If you want to find out more about digital accessibility, or you’re involved in a project where you’d like accessibility advice, feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.