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Digital inclusion user insights — Disabled people


We are living in a rapidly changing digital world. In the last 10 years alone, smartphones have gone from a curiosity owned by a few to a commodity used by over two billion people worldwide.

Technologies once confined to science fiction are becoming part of daily life, from the artificial intelligence that drives some of the world’s biggest companies to the augmented reality we’ve seen in viral smartphone games.

By the mid-2030s, it’s been estimated that 24 percent of today’s jobs in New Zealand could be automated (PwC, 2018) and a new range of jobs we can only imagine will have emerged. 

As digital technologies weave their way into our lives, they impact society and the way we do things. It is therefore vital that everyone can participate fully in, and make the most of, our increasingly digital world. This is digital inclusion.

When digital inclusion is discussed in research papers such as Motu Research’s Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand, the following people are often identified as being most at risk of digital exclusion:

  • Disabled people
  • Māori
  • Pacific peoples
  • People in social housing
  • Seniors
  • Un- and under-employed
  • Remote communities.

Most research identifies the demographics considered most at risk of not being digitally included. However, it does not explore the personal experience of the individuals within these groups.

Thank you and disclaimer

The research team would like to extend our warmest thanks to all the people who participated in this UX research project. We would also like to note the information and findings featured in this report reflect the views of the individuals who were interviewed and the various groups that represent them.

Summary of findings

The individuals who participated in this research helped provide a clearer perspective of the perceptions and impacts to disabled people who choose either to engage or not engage with digital services.

Need to enforce the Web Accessibility Standard and support better accessibility education

Interviewees featured in this report believe there needs to be better enforcement or an incentive for people to follow the Web Accessibility Standard. They also spoke of a need for more accessibility education for those who develop digital services.

More human-centred design and co-design practices required

Using human-centred design principles and including marginalised groups of people when developing and testing digital services were two ideas suggested by interviewees to ensure better usability and accessibility of these services.

Need to reduce cost barriers and provide skills training

Interviewees also identified the cost of accessing technology and digital services was a barrier. Furthermore, they felt education for disabled people, particularly at an early age, would help ensure disabled people were able to keep up with the rapidly changing digital world.

Digital inclusion for disabled people should be prioritised

Finally, interviewees highlighted the overall need for more widespread digital inclusion of disabled people online. Improved independence, ability to complete tasks in a timely manner, engage with the workplace and connect with people online were just some of the likely outcomes from a more inclusive online environment.

Purpose of this research

The purpose of this research was to understand the perceptions and feelings about digital inclusion from disabled people as they went about their daily lives.

The goal was to understand the key pain points for individuals, what they liked about the current online environment and what improvements could be made to ensure a more equitable digital environment for all.

Definitions and framework

This research drew on the vision of digital inclusion set out in the Digital Inclusion Blueprint, Te Mahere mō te Whakaurunga Matihiko (the Blueprint) and the Blueprint’s definition of the four elements of digital inclusion.

The vision for digital inclusion

The vision is that all of us have what we need to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the digital world.

The four elements of digital inclusion

There are four interdependent elements, which are all needed for a person to be digitally included. They are motivation, access, skills, and trust.

  1. Motivation: Understanding how the internet and digital technology can help us connect, learn, or access opportunities, and consequently have a meaningful reason to engage with the digital world.
  2. Access: Having access to digital devices, services, software, and content that meet our needs at a cost we can afford; and being able to connect to the internet where you work, live and play. Access is a broad element, which can be broken into three key parts: connectivity, affordability and accessibility.
  3. Skills: Having the know-how to use the internet and digital technology in ways that are appropriate and beneficial for each of us.
  4. Trust: Trusting in the internet and online services; and having the digital literacy to manage personal information and understand and avoid scams, harmful communication and misleading information. This element also touches on online safety, digital understanding, confidence and resilience.

The vision and elements of digital inclusion provide a framework for understanding digital inclusion in the New Zealand context and for discussing the challenges faced by different groups in New Zealand. They were also used to design this research.

Scope and method

This research focused on disability groups and individuals located throughout New Zealand.



In total, 27 people participated in research interviews, including 6 disability sector representatives and 21 people who either had a disability or were a primary carer of a person with a disability.


Organisations included in this research were the Ministry of Health, the 20/20 Trust, Access Advisors, Blind and Low Vision Education Network New Zealand, Deaf Aotearoa and a range of community leaders.


People who took part or who were represented in the research had a range of disabilities, including low vision or blindness, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, intellectual disabilities, Down’s syndrome, deafness and ADHD.


Selection of interviewees was generally carried out through existing relationships formed between the Digital Inclusion programme and various stakeholders. Participants were invited to take part in the research in two ways – either directly or through representative organisations. All participants received a $50 supermarket voucher to thank people for their time.

Data collection

Data was collected during face-to-face, phone, video, and paper-based (for non-verbal participants) interviews. Interviews took roughly 30 to 60 minutes.

Interviews sought to understand participants’ perceptions of the pain points involved in interacting with the digital world, as well as their lived experience of the digital world. Questions explored what participants liked and didn't like about interacting online, as well as the barriers they faced when accessing digital services.

Participants were asked to take part in a card sort activity where they rated how easy it was to use various government and non-government digital services, using a scale of 1 to 10. They were also asked to identify the most important thing they would change about their current digital experience and why.

Data analysis

All interviews were transcribed into summary notes, with data categorised and themed.


COVID-19 limited the ability to travel and meet individuals in person, minimising face-to-face interviews. It also limited access to individuals who weren’t able to use video conference tools, email or telephone.

In addition, the research became limited in scope due to the ethnic and demographic groups and disabilities represented in its findings. For example, few participants identified as Māori, Pasifika or Asian or as people aged 25 years or younger.

Further research should be conducted to better understand the experiences of people within these groups.


Participants in this research represented a range of ages, ethnicities, locations and genders.

  • 1 person aged 65+
  • 9 people aged 40–65
  • 8 people aged 25–40
  • 3 people did not state their age.
  • 14 people identified as New Zealand European
  • 3 people identified as European
  • 1 person identified as Samoan
  • 3 people did not state their ethnicity.
Rural or urban
  • 15 people identified as living in an urban area
  • 3 people identified as living in a rural area
  • 2 people identified as living in a rural-urban area
  • 1 person did not state where they lived.
  • 11 people identified as female
  • 7 people identified as male
  • 1 person identified as non-gender binary
  • 2 people preferred not to answer.

Why digital inclusion matters now more now than ever

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the digital divide worldwide. Many New Zealanders struggled to connect, communicate and access essential services. This situation continues to extend the divide for the more than 1 in 5 New Zealanders the data indicates are digitally excluded.

As New Zealand continues its response to COVID-19, the challenges for digitally excluded groups remain and are likely to become more pronounced, with social inequalities worsening. In fact, new groups of New Zealanders such as those in the business sector may also become vulnerable to digital exclusion.

In its first report to Government, the Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand, advised that social and digital inclusion must be a priority for New Zealand decision-makers and the country must do more to tackle digital exclusion.

Vulnerable communities in New Zealand need more action and it needs to be delivered in a more coordinated and sustainable way.

Digital Council for Aotearoa New Zealand, Beyond COVID-19: A Summary of Our Advice to Ministers, June 2020

3 personal stories

Cheryl’s story: Job candidates with a disability – a scary prospect for some employers

Cheryl started losing her sight 25 years ago and has been ‘legally’ blind for the past 20 years.

She freely admits she’s not in the digital native age bracket, but she says that “I find the phone can be the fastest way of doing things and I ask Google to help me out for information because it is so useful.”

She says apps are easier than computers as there’s less to do to get the information.

“Apple products are fantastic for blind people – but they are expensive. Ipads provide a quick and easy experience, but if you want to write a document in Word then a PC is better.”

Cheryl says digital technology has great potential to assist and empower. If she could change one thing right now it would be to make technology aids, such as screen readers, more affordable. Cheryl uses a ‘JAWS’ screen reader – speech software that reads the text aloud. It costs $1500 and the government does not fund these for blind people.

“If you’re lucky enough to have a job then you can get assistance with the technology,” she says. But that means it’s a bit of a catch-22: you need the assistive technology to keep connected and maintain your skills to get the work.”

Cheryl says job candidates with a disability are a scary prospect for some employers. Many are not familiar with the technology available. She says she has been lucky; her most recent positions have seen her welcomed into the organisation by people knowledgeable about the needs of employees with a disability.

Gene’s story: Access for disabled people comes at a cost

The price of internet access and tools such as screen readers are a big issue for some disabled people when it comes to accessing digital services, says Gene who is visually impaired.

Yet, digital devices play a pivotal role for many disabled people, keeping them connected to the world and enabling them to access these services.

As well as cost, some websites are problematic, with poor layout and labelling of buttons causing huge problems.

Gene says trying to get specific information on some sites can be difficult, if graphics and buttons etcetera are not labelled correctly with alt text. The screen reader uses various ways of identifying elements within a web page; as well as to navigate them. If these are not labelled correctly they will not be identified sufficiently by the screen reader.

If an element like a button has no alt text in it, you will hear “button” instead of “play button”.

Gene says he once logged a complaint that resulted in a six month wait before the site was fixed.

Having to use captcha on many sites can also be a big barrier – and more exasperating for those who are both blind and hard of hearing as sometimes the audio captcha doesn't provide a good alternative.

Another cause of frustration comes when companies update or change their websites; it takes time to become familiar with navigating a site that has changed, he says.

Gene is an advocate for the NVDA (non-visual desktop access) screen reader, which he says is a good alternative to the paid JAWS screen reader.

Gene’s eyesight condition means that he cannot drive, and because he lives in a rural area his options for paid employment are limited. Gene provides advice and tutorials to people for the NVDA screen reader via his own website: Accessibility Central .

He says he has noticed that younger people are not so afraid of trying and using new technologies – they’ve been brought up with this as part of their lives. Older generations however are more hesitant towards trying things out.

This keeps him busy, alongside collaborating with website developers to get labelling problems fixed.

Gene says most government, company and private websites are accessible. When discovering problematic sites occasionally, despite having web guidelines (which are not always followed) and being self-assessed (which may not pick up labelling problems); using an accessibility checker on a website could also identify various issues.

Currently, there isn't any New Zealand law to make public sector web developers accountable.

Mary’s story: The digital world is so potentially empowering

Mary has been blind since birth – but on email since 1985, thanks to the use of a screen reader tool. She says the digital world is so potentially empowering – but so much is getting in the way.

“Websites [generate] the highest frustration levels because they vary from absolutely perfectly fine through to deplorable and, along the way, there are websites where you go on one week and you can just get along, and in the next week, they've changed.”

“Either the websites changed, or your browser has changed, or your browser’s interaction with your screen reader has changed.”

For example, something as simple as the Countdown shopping site has changed and changed and changed every two weeks for no terribly good reason. Then a couple of weeks ago, Chrome changed. It stopped reacting properly with our screen readers and so that impacted not just on the Countdown one, but on just about every website.

Every time a page changes or a page refreshes, the quickest thing to do is usually to hit the Tab key. But that wasn’t working and finally Chrome has figured out that they’ve introduced a bug – which they say they will fix with the next release of Chrome on  17 March – that means waiting a month.

“I got surveyed by Colmar Brunton four times last year on behalf of organisations such as Air New Zealand, Auckland Council and Inland Revenue – but each survey was inaccessible… There need to be strong rules around procurement by any government agency – how dare they procure survey software that's inaccessible!”

“You’re not going to get answers from me. I never filled in the Inland Revenue survey and that annoys me because there are heaps of aspects about IR that are very good. I complained and was told I could answer by phone – I said ‘no, I’ve got better things to do. I will not waste my time phoning you to fill out a survey when you can't organisze one that’s accessible. I can’t trust you to fill it in the way I want you to’.”

“I also think government needs to try an awful lot harder to fix up old websites and then they need to provide us with support to deal with the commercial providers, the only way we can actually hold any commercial service provider to account is to take them to the Human Rights Commission.

“One of my greatest concerns is the lack of adaptive technology training available to blind and low vision people, particularly seniors whose loss of vision has come with age.”


Insights from organisations that represent disabled people

Insights from the organisations that represent disabled people were grouped into four main themes – access, motivation, trust and skills.

Web accessibility still generally poor

When it came to issues of the online accessibility of websites, organisations reported that while there were tools and the Web Accessibility Standard in place to help develop more accessible digital services, there were no incentives or penalties in New Zealand to ensure that these were followed. As a result, not all New Zealand websites were accessible or complied with the Standard.

It would be a good move for organisations to build-in accessibility as a fundamental platform upon which they designed their websites and products.

Access Advisors

Poor website accessibility resulted in a range of difficulties such as website navigation. For example, when buttons on webpages simply said ‘button’ instead of providing an explanation of the button’s purpose in alternative text the individuals were left confused and with a sense of ‘if I press this button would something I don’t want to happen, happen?’.

Organisations felt there was a need to enforce the Web Accessibility Standard. For example, clearly labelling buttons, text, pictures, notifications and alerts to ensure all users understood what they were interacting with and could navigate websites easily.

Lack of accessibility was de-motivating

Organisations reported that inaccessible websites and information had a significant impact on disabled people. It led to a loss of independence, awareness and the ability to take advantage of online opportunities in a timely manner.

The trend of government and private sector services to go online was also a financial concern for many disabled people. For example, banks shutting down ATMs and moving services online resulted in disabled people having to purchase expensive technology to enable them to adjust to such changes.

There should be a choice for an individual to engage digitally or not. Their overall experience and outcome should be the same. The important thing is having the ability to choose.

Community engagement leader

Digital skills not widespread

While a few interviewees mentioned that disabled individuals were highly skilled at using technology, others stated that:

if all services went digital [tomorrow], then 50 percent of the disabled community would struggle due to their level of literacy and ability to communicate through a digital channel.


While there was a need to improve digital literacy among disabled people, it was noted that people who code and build online services should be trained to meet accessibility standards and become experts in ways to ensure compliance to those standards as well.

Trust is a barrier to carrying out online tasks

Trust was another issue that was particularly acute for the low vision and blind community. Online content that was not accessible led to a loss of information for users, resulting in a poor understanding of the content, which, in turn, led to a sense of frustration. Such issues arose from improper labelling of information, using alternative text, pages that were too content heavy and publishing crucial information in files such as PDFs.

If someone couldn’t properly access the full range of information online, it was likely that person faced fewer choices and a reduced ability to make informed decisions (or, as in the case below, make the cost savings available to other people).

Instead of shopping at high-cost mobile product retailers such as ‘red trucks’ or utilising high-cost loan sharks, people who are able to access the information and products online can save a lot of money.

20/20 Trust

Without proper access to digital services, disabled people often faced a loss of independence by having to rely on others to complete tasks such as online shopping.

Insights from disabled people

Insights from disabled people (and/or their support people) were roughly grouped across the themes of access, motivation, trust and skills.

New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard needs to be enforced

A lot of the participants described a good digital service as one that was usable, accessible and navigable. They also believed the Web Accessibility Standard was a good tool for achieving those outcomes, but it needed to be enforced by the government to make a difference.

Accessibility should be considered a default option rather than waiting for people with disabilities to have to complain and wait for the changes to be made.

Interviewee with cerebral palsy

New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard set out by government is followed by many but not all agencies and is met by even fewer. Of the people interviewed who knew about the existing Web Accessibility Standard, all felt the need for some sort of enforcement of the Standard.

They felt the Government needed to ensure all new and existing government websites were accessible and provide support to non-government agencies to do the same. Furthermore, they wanted an emphasis put on teaching new coders and developers about the importance of accessibility.

Inaccessible content, navigation and design is common

Interviewees said inaccessible websites and other digital services caused annoyance and frustration and took an extraordinary amount of time to navigate and find information.

Sometimes a website was so bad, they would be forced to use alternative sources of information to complete a task or get access to the service they needed.

Issues relating to poor content, navigation and design were frequently noted as common experiences by interviewees, as were images and buttons without alternative text, content-heavy webpages and overly complicated webpage design.

Importance of alternative text

Buttons, links and images without suitable alternative text for screen reader users resulted in users not being able to understand the context of the information on screen. Alternative text also needed to be descriptive. Buttons or images labelled with ‘button’ or ‘image’ provided no context about what was being displayed.

It's a long and laborious task of having to tab through all the links and buttons on the screen just to find something I need, especially when those links and buttons just read out as ‘button’, ‘click here’ or ‘link’.

Interviewee, who is blind

Impact of content-heavy websites

An example of a content-heavy website was Inland Revenue’s website, which required users with a screen reader to navigate through multiple pages of the website, processing the same headers and information over and over again.

Websites with tables to display content or websites that didn’t use plain English were also difficult to navigate.

MyIR Inland Revenue has the exact same top and bottom parts labelled on the page and the page itself is quite heavy with content. So, when you flick through the top of one page through all the useless content, find the link and go to the next page, you then need to go through the useless content at the top of the next page to get to the info you really need.

Interviewee, who is blind

Issues caused by complicated webpage design

Websites with an inconsistent or unintuitive layout and design were difficult to navigate and made it difficult to find information. People with low vision or who were blind often relied on auditory cues to navigate a website and access information. Yet this reality was either often overlooked by web designers.

The fancier a site gets, the trickier it gets to make accessible.

Usability/accessibility tester who is blind

All participants who mentioned the above factors agreed that making websites simpler and allowing users to drill down to access information was a good approach.

There needs to be a link between usability and accessibility where sites don't have to be cluttered with information.

Interviewee, who is blind

Other web design, content and navigation concerns raised by interviewees included:

  • the need for webpages to feature contrasting colours or that have the ability to change the colour contrast of a webpage
  • less use of text as images – they’re too difficult to use with screen magnification
  • appropriate gender/non-gender specific titles and language
  • more New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) or captioned videos
  • removal of autoplay videos or advertisements from websites, especially those unrelated to webpage content.

Good website examples

The website for the Office for Disability Issues and the COVID-19 website were identified as good examples of accessibility from people in the blind and cerebral palsy communities.

Interviewees reported the layout and design were well done, with large, easily readable font and easy navigation. They also noted the websites were not ‘bogged down’ with side or drop down menus. The ease of using the RealMe login service was also mentioned as a positive example.

Feedback from interviewees confirmed the disability community to be as diverse as any other community with a range of needs and views on how to best meet these needs.

For example, when asked about the most important change someone could make to his or her online experience, one participant who was blind stated they would banish all pictures and images from the internet. Meanwhile, another user with an intellectual learning disability replied to the same question that having a lot of picture cues would help.

Inaccessible forms

Completing online forms to book accommodation or flights, complete surveys or to log a complaint emerged as a common frustration with many participants.

The kinds of online forms that caused frustration typically used a combination of check boxes and drop-down lists. Users reported having to fill out pages numerous times because they either accidentally missed a field or chose the wrong option. Some participants had entire pages erased while using an online form to submit information, resulting in users having to complete pages of information again and again.

That frustration was exacerbated with time-limited forms. Participants who lacked fine motor control often couldn't complete the forms on time and frequently gave up or had to ask someone else for help. Overall, participants expressed a sense of being excluded and disadvantaged when it came to using time limited forms.

Some online surveys were problematic too, especially for people with low vision or who were blind. Online surveys were a source of frustration and this was compounded by a feeling of not being listened to and ignored by whoever designed the survey. Worse still, not being able to fill out the survey and provide feedback meant their voice was not heard. Other sources of frustration associated with using online surveys included use of complicated check boxes, issues with contrast and a general lack of accessibility.

Participants with physical disabilities also singled out online forms as a source of frustration. One interviewee who uses a wheelchair and a service dog had issues with booking flights online. She was only ever able to communicate one of her accessibility needs online and had to call the airline to provide further detail.

Booking movie tickets online was difficult for some participants. Some cinema websites failed to list wheelchair accessible seating, meaning participants had to call the theatre and book their wheelchair accessible tickets often resulting in an additional ‘handling fee’.

Malicious or misleading advertising

Trust is a key element of digital inclusion. Various members of the disabled community who took part in this study reported issues with online advertising, ranging from malicious ads that tried to get people to download malware onto devices to repetitive pop-up banners.

Malicious advertisements or misleading product names were an issue particularly for people in the blind and learning disability communities.

When downloading anti-virus software, one member from the blind community had an issue with repetitive ads saying he had to download another piece of software to optimise his computer. He was computer savvy and knew the ad was a scam, but said for others the ad could lead to problems such as downloading malicious software containing viruses or ransomware.

Another participant with an intellectual disability felt misled when he bought anti-virus software which had ‘total-care’ in the name. After downloading it, the software company asked him to upgrade for extra features. He believed that having “total” in the name would mean it would contain everything he needed.

Even non-malicious online advertisements were an issue for people. One member of the blind community noted that webpages with a lot of advertising were annoying because the screen reader technology on his phone had to continually process the adverts to get to the content.

One member of an online social group for people with Down’s syndrome mentioned it was common for members to get friend requests from random people anywhere in the world. However, it was also difficult for some members to distinguish between genuine friend requests and scam requests. Guardians and support people became critical in those situations, helping members to assess friend requests and keep them safe. Education on how to stay safe online, targeted at vulnerable communities, would be useful.

You see so many people spreading so much fake news and for a community that is as vulnerable as ours... it's not good. Sometimes you have to do research online and confirm something is what it is and not everyone in the community has the skills to do that.

Interviewee, who is deaf

Online maps and tests

Online maps and tests (used to test if a computer user is human) were identified as a continual annoyance for members of the low vision and blind community.

Maps requiring a user to drop a pin on a map were a significant barrier to people with low vision, while CAPTCHA technology (the technology which helps to determine whether or not a user is human) was a hindrance for members of both the low vision and blind communities and communities with loss of fine motor control.

Inaudible audio CAPTCHAs or CAPTCHAs featuring picture confirmation screens that were too small resulted in the user either having to try multiple times to find a CAPTCHA that was easy to understand and solve or find an alternative method of logging in. Both of these options wasted time.

When thinking about the design, content and navigation of digital services, participants said it was important to keep disabled users in mind and to accommodate how they consumed information. All websites should adhere to and follow the Web Accessibility Standard to ensure everyone could easily access online information.

It's about remembering everyone has different ways of communicating.

Parent of child with Down syndrome.

Co-designing online content

When talking to participants about accessible content, navigation and design, co-design kept coming up. Almost a quarter of interviewees stated the one most important change they would make to how digital services were built was to ask development teams and users to co-design services together or, at the very least, ensure developers were aware of the Web Accessibility Standard and how to follow it when developing websites.

A really important factor is that we need to have the end users in the room when developing products so you know you are developing something that needs to be done and that the product that is being developed is actually going to be useful for them.

Interviewee, who has ADHD

Access to technology

Regardless of who you are, technology can provide access to information and services and improve communication. Technology commonly used by participants in this study ranged from a basic smartphone or tablet to a head-wand used to communicate by head movement.

However, accessing technology for disabled people wasn’t always straight forward. For some, cost was a barrier. For others, knowing how to use technology was the barrier. Meanwhile, continued technological innovation made it difficult for others to keep up with technology.

For example, mobile devices moving from wired to wireless headphones caused difficulties for some people using ATMs. ATMs often featured a headphone jack point to help people with low vision or who are blind to access their bank accounts and make a transaction. Mobile phones with wireless headphones meant some users had to either purchase an adapter or interact with a bank teller to use the ATM service, causing a loss of independence.

The digital world is so empowering for us, but there is so much that is going on that makes it difficult.

Interviewee who is blind

A third of participants highlighted the benefits of voice recognition technology, which allowed users to quickly complete tasks that would normally take a lot of time.

For example, two blind participants were asked to open an app on their mobile device (during face-to-face interviews). One opted to complete the task without using voice recognition, the other opted to use voice recognition.

The first participant had to navigate manually through each app on her device listening for the nominated app as the screen reader on their device named each one, taking around three minutes to open the app. The second participant took less than five seconds to achieve the same result using a voice command.

Overall, most participants were not aware of how to take advantage of voice technology and agreed users needed training on how to use and get the best use of voice recognition technology.

Barriers to accessible technology

The cost of technology was a common barrier for members of the disabled community. During interviews, participants were asked what they would change to make their lives better. A large number said they would reduce the cost of accessible technology.

One participant from the blind community said he’d stopped using the screen reader JAWS because of its cost and now used his mobile phone and the default screen reader that came with it.

Participants also said the alternatives to accessible tech were often costly too, citing smartphones such as iPhones that came with great accessible features, but were often too expensive.

Low awareness of accessible technology was another barrier. For example, the majority of people with low vision or blindness talked about the screen reader JAWS, but were not aware of the free alternative NVDA.

A youth worker with cerebral palsy mentioned using a specialised car to drive. While he felt lucky getting a lottery grant to fund the car, other costs associated with the car such as maintenance, insurance and driving lessons were a burden.

It’s not cheap being disabled.

Interviewee, who has cerebral palsy

Technology education

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

Interviewee who has cerebral palsy

Many participants said it was important to know what to look for when it came to buying or accessing technology. It was also important to access support to learn how to use it.

As one participant mentioned, it wasn’t always easy to learn something new or to use technology without feeling like you might break it. Two other participants agreed. One participant mentioned she often asked her son to patiently walk her through how to use a new piece of technology. Another mentioned instructions would make her feel less anxious about using technology.

You can’t overstate the importance of early exposure to online technology for these children. Just look at what sighted kids are doing with technology before they can talk. If our kids can do the same thing and keep up with their sighted peers, then they have more chances of success later on.

Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ (BLENNZ).

Participants agreed that learning to use accessible technology early in a child’s life built early literacy, removed hurdles to learning later on in life and eased the transition to work. This was a common theme among participants.

Impact on time

Time was another common theme among participants. There was the issue of time wastage when it came to using technology and completing online tasks such as using inaccessible forms. There was also the issue of time efficiency aided by innovation such as voice recognition technology.

Interviewees, particularly participants who were either low vision or blind, expressed frustration with constant updating of websites and applications. Too often this resulted in a website or app no longer being accessible. Users had to either complain to get things fixed and wait until they were remedied or give up on the website or app and use something else. Constantly changing websites often took longer to navigate and find information.

Websites seem to change from week-to-week, where one week you can get along with them, and the next you can’t. Either the website has changed, the browser has changed or the screen reader interacting with the browser has changed.

Interviewee who is blind

A particular issue for the Deaf community was the lack of live New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) content and live captioning online. One participant mentioned that important information like daily COVID-19 briefings were broadcast with excellent use of the NZSL. However, other government information such as information that was video streamed on Facebook or shown live usually came with no captioning or NZSL translation. In addition, people reliant on NZSL frequently had to wait for information to be captioned (after the information had been broadcast to a general audience), which had the flow on effect of removing them from discussions and debate or delaying their entry into the conversation.

Engagement and social inclusion

When participants experienced frustration online, they often gave up the online task they were engaged in or deleted the app causing them frustration. One participant who used a default Samsung phone screen reader said if he downloaded a new app and it wasn’t accessible, it was deleted right away.

Participants also reported difficulty accessing visual material online, particularly the pictures, videos, infographics, tutorials and memes associated with engaging socially or learning online. This resulted in disabled people feeling excluded socially and unable to participate in the online conversation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, members of the Deaf community tried to counter this reality by setting up Facebook groups to discuss the latest briefings of the day in NZSL and other visual formats, share stories and ask questions about what was going on.

Overall, participants felt accessible, inclusive information needed to be created by both professional organisations and individuals communicating socially.

Getting help from others

Another downside of inaccessible digital services and information was the forced reliance on other people. For some participants, this was a minor issue. For others it was a big issue, which came with a loss of independence.

Some neuro-diverse participants, for example, who struggled with social situations, found it challenging to have to phone others for support or to physically go into a store or organisation to get accessible information. Participants agreed it was important to ensure information was readily available and accessible online for disabled people.

One blind participant talked about the lack of experience by call centre staff when it came to delivering accessible information over the phone. Instead of giving her instructions she could follow, the customer service representative told her to: ‘Please check if your modem lights are working’ as if they were talking to a sighted customer.

One participant with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) who helped and supported others with MS said they had observed that younger people with MS tended to be more comfortable using new technology independently compared to older members who more commonly asked for help.

Supporting diversity in the workplace

Barriers to employment created by lack of access to technology was a significant issue.

Often the tools needed to succeed at work came with added costs that many participants found difficult to discuss during the employment process. Or people were promised access to specific technology or support when they started a job but it never materialised.

One participant noted a time in the early days of a new job when she was due to complete some online training. Before she could start, however, her computer needed adjusting by the IT department. Instead of making the technical adjustments so she could complete the training, the IT department suggested they would simply sign off the training as complete. The participant said it made her feel awkward and ‘not that great’.

Similar issues were noted by neurodiverse participants. One participant commented: ‘Human resource people don't tend to notice different people … they employ homogenised groups of people where there is a specific criteria of what good looks like.’

Often when neuro-diverse people were employed, there was a lack of understanding from others in the workplace of how different people function, which led to miscommunication, possible exclusion of individuals from discussions and a stigma of being difficult to work with. Participants agreed there needed to be an understanding in the workplace where people who thought and communicated differently were heard and could participate.

Physical factors

The majority of this report looked at people’s experience of online services typically accessed on websites or mobile phone applications. However, many participants, especially those with motor control issues, brought up issues with everyday devices such as ATMs, self-service concierge or sign-in machines and EFTPOS machines.

The primary issue with these devices was the need for precision when using them. Users needed to be exact when entering a pin on an EFTPOS machine, when placing a credit card in a slot or when entering a name in a sign-in service to complete their task.

People without fine motor control found these tasks difficult. Participants said they found alternatives such as using a digital wallet (where you pay for a good or service using your phone) effective or they preferred to shop online from home where they felt less anxious about having to quickly enter numbers into a pin pad while others waited.

Another participant with cerebral palsy said she had issues with pop up ads that had small ‘close’ icons. It was often difficult to close the ad without accidentally clicking it.

Ironically, another participant with low vision said the accessibility features on self sign-in machines that gave the option to choose a larger font size was too small and failed to make the device accessible. Again, this made disabled people feel like their needs had been considered only as an afterthought.


This research aimed to capture insight into the personal experiences of a group of people most at risk of not being digitally included – people in the disability community.

During this project, various themes emerged highlighting the wide spectrum of issues this group faces when accessing online services and information. The issues clearly indicate the needs of disabled people should be at the forefront of our minds and not seen as a secondary thought as we develop digital services and information.

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.

Accessibility consultant

Awareness and acceptance of accessibility and training to use accessible tools and services will allow everyone to participate in, contribute to and benefit from the digital world. The creation of digitally accessible services and content, will ensure that everyone is able to join discussions, access services and information and have a voice online.

By talking to people to explore their firsthand experience of digital inclusion and the impact of being digitally excluded, this research hoped to highlight issues that are often overlooked when it comes to developing online services and information. This research highlights issues, as well as further research that should be done with more members of the disability community to ensure the experiences of groups such as Māori, Pasifika and members of New Zealand’s refugee and migrant communities are also represented.

Key findings and next steps

1. Enforce or incentivise the Web Accessibility Standard

Interviewees in this report believe New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard is largely ineffective without strong incentives or enforcement.

The interviewees strongly recommend that government agencies explore incentive or enforcement measures to ensure the Standard is met.

For example, could the answer lie in a law change to ensure the Standard is followed or compulsory education for service and content designers? Could new procurement rules be introduced to ensure software and websites are made accessible?

2. Increase the co-design of accessible, digital services

Interviewees in this report believe digital services and information should be made accessible by default.

The research indicates this could be achieved by ensuring service and content designers use co-design and human-centred design approaches.

Government agencies could also include representation from disabled people when they design services and content.

3. Offer more digital skills training to the disability community

The research found a need to develop the digital skills, knowledge and understanding of disabled people to ensure they how to use accessibility tools.

There is a need for government agencies investigate ways to achieve this.

4. Provide affordable access to digital tools and technology

The research found disabled people need better access to devices, software, tools and support to engage digitally, particularly at early stages of their lives.

5. Explore employment and post-employment support

The research identified a need for workplace programmes that support the inclusion of disabled and neuro-diverse people.

Interviewees called for government to explore ways to ensure disabled people are better able to participate in the workforce and have the training and support they need to succeed in the workplace and post-employment.

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