This guide has been developed to help you help yourself if you come across websites or apps that seem difficult or impossible to use. It includes some practical ways to find out what the problem is, contact the provider and get things fixed.
Being able to access and use websites and apps is important for everyone. If you use assistive technology or have other access needs then digital accessibility is particularly important for you. Digital accessibility is simply being able to access the content, buy the product and do what you want to do without major problems.
Making digital services accessible
Many , government agencies and other organisations don’t even know that they should be making their digital services accessible, which is no excuse. Many others don’t know how, which is even less of an excuse. Typically, these providers don’t make digital services inaccessible on purpose, but some deprioritise accessibility because they think it is too hard. All of these types of digital service providers need to be reminded of the importance of accessibility, why they should do it, and how to do it.
To assist businesses the World Wide Web Consortium created a set of guidelines about 20 years ago to help providers make their digital services accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (or WCAG2.1 as they are more commonly known) have been updated several times and help providers design and build accessible websites and apps. These guidelines outline the standards that any digital provider should meet if they want their site to be accessible.
There are also Digital Accessibility consultancies to help providers improve their services. Consultancies provide reviews, training, research and other services to providers to help them make their digital services better. There are several New Zealand consultancies.
Problems with websites or apps
Things can go wrong with websites and apps. Often the provider is unaware of the problems, but once they do know they should fix the accessibility issues. Problems that you might find are things like:
- Information is hard to read
- Finding things is difficult
- Difficulty knowing what the images are
- Making buttons and links work
- Knowing what to put in forms
- Your assistive tech can’t access parts of the site
- Getting through the ‘I am not a robot’ tests.
Checking the problem
Most of the time the problems you have are likely to be because the website or app hasn’t been designed or built properly. The problem is unlikely to be your fault. But you can do a few things to check and make sure that there is an issue. When you have a problem:
- Reload/refresh the website or app that you are on, just to check that there wasn’t a glitch in the programme
- Try the same thing over as exactly as you can, to test if you have the same problem again
- Ask someone else if they have had the same problem with that website or app
- If all else fails try closing all your programmes and restarting your computer.
Contact the provider
If all else fails and there seems to be a genuine problem then it is probably time to contact the provider. It is perfectly reasonable to contact them, let them know what the problem is, and ask them to fix it. You can even suggest how they might find out how to fix it.
It is important to find out who is the best person to talk to. Many providers have specific people you need to contact. Some providers have ‘Contact us’ information or a form to fill in like a feedback form. If you call and get customer services, ask to speak to someone about “technical access issues.” This might help get to the right person. Deaf and hard of hearing customers can use New Zealand Relay to call customer services.
Key information to send to provider
Next, make sure you have prepared yourself and have all the information they are likely to ask. Decide if you are going to call or email or send a good old-fashioned letter. Collect the information together before you make contact. The organisation will need to know:
- Your name and contact details so they can get back to you
- A name for your complaint – a subject line for the form or email
- Brief details about your access needs and any assistive technology you use
- Details about what device you are using (laptop, desktop, phone and whether it’s Apple, Windows or Android etc)
- What browser you are using (Chrome, Safari etc)
- Why you were visiting/using the site
- The web address or app name
- What you were doing when you had the problem
- The impact of not being able to do you what you wanted (e.g. couldn’t order groceries, was unable to pay my bill, didn’t complete my purchase etc.)
- Why this problem is important to them, e.g. reminding them that it makes good business sense for them not to exclude customers.
- What you want them to do, e.g. fix the checkout process so the screen reader can access the form fields, or correct other accessibility barriers.
- A link to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or a digital accessibility company
- A timeframe which you think is reasonable for them to get back to you, to let you know what their next steps will be.
A sample letter is included in this document. You can change the details to suit you, this is just a guide.
Here is an example of a letter to an organisation which has a website with some accessibility barriers for someone using a screen reader with speech output. It is a guide only and you can adapt it to suit your own technology and circumstances, and the particular accessibility issues you encounter.
Email: <Insert email address>
Subject: Technical access issue with your website for people with disabilities
I am writing about the accessibility of your website. I am blind and use screen reading software (which reads the computer screen and outputs the information in synthetic voice). I also need to navigate web pages using the keyboard, rather than a mouse.
I have recently found out about your products through a friend, and wanted to make a purchase online. But, when I tried to use your website I couldn’t complete the purchase because there were some technical accessibility barriers on your web page.
I initially visited the front page at: <Insert URL/web page address> on Tuesday. As I was navigating the page with the down arrow key, I found a lot of things which did not have text describing what they were. For instance, under the heading for the main daily feature product my screen reader read out as I was arrowing down, “graphic main image” then, “graphic thumbnail.” As well as that, I couldn’t find a link or button on the page to indicate how to buy the product, and so I could not make my purchase.
It is disappointing that I do not have the same opportunities to access the same products as the rest of the community simply because your website appears not to have been designed with accessibility in mind. Also as a business it makes sense for you to make sure that all your potential customers can buy your products.
The rights of disabled people are recognised internationally, in a United Nations convention. The convention says that access to information and communications technologies, including the web, is a basic human right. The WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) were created to ensure that everyone has access to websites.
Please let me know when I can expect your website to be fully accessible, which will then allow me to shop with the same ease and independence as the rest of the community.
The technical details as follows:
- Operating System <insert operating system and version – Apple, Windows etc.>
- Browser: <insert browser and version – Chrome, Safari etc.>
- Assistive technology: <insert the software or hardware and version – NVDA, Dragon etc.>
If you have any questions, please let me know. I would appreciate a response from you by <insert date>, so I may consider any next steps.
<insert your contact information>
Using social media
Social media can be an effective tool for enabling change as many organisations want to protect their reputation and will respond quickly to negative publicity posted on public forums like Facebook and Twitter. Many people make complaints using social media and some providers will respond. But naming and shaming is not always the best way to get things done.
If you are going to use social media, word it like a complaint using the technical details mentioned earlier. Be brief and to the point, avoid including any personal details and be respectful of the fact that the digital service provider may have no understanding of the problems. While it is not an excuse, very few businesses understand the needs for accessibility. They are not doing this on purpose.
A couple of sample posts are included:
“Just tried to complete a large purchase on <provider name> website and the checkout process isn’t accessible using VoiceOver on my iPhone. Hey <provider name> any chance you could review this and get it fixed #DigitalAccessForAll #WinningCustomersAndHearts #PurchasingVote”
“Trying to find data from <organisation’s name> and there are no text descriptions for the graphics. Any chance you could provide the raw data or a text description please?
#DataAccess #LoveTheNumbers #DigitalAccessForAll”
“New tracing app being used at <provider name> not accessible because <reason it’s not working>. I want to be part of keeping the country safe too. Any chance you could fix it or find a more accessible option? #DigitalAccessForAll #Covid19ContactTracing”
Making a formal complaint
As previously mentioned, it is perfectly reasonable to let an organisation know that there is a problem with their website or app. It is also reasonable to make a formal complaint if they ignore your request. If they have not responded to you, or have provided an inadequate response, or not actually fixed the problem, then you can take the matter further. The first option is to contact the digital service provider and ask to make an official complaint. This gives them another chance to make a change. But if you still have no luck then you can approach the Office for Disability Issues, an industry association, a council or ombudsman, or contact the Human Rights Commission (HRC) or a lawyer in respect of alleged discrimination.
Contact special interest groups, sign up for email groups