Changes to New Zealand’s web standards for accessibility

On 1 July, Digital.govt.nz introduced two new web standards for government websites to make sure they are accessible and usable for everyone, including people with disabilities: the Web Accessibility Standard and the Web Usability Standard.

These standards affect all public service agencies, such as the Ministry of Social Development, and other service agencies such as the New Zealand Police and Customs. Websites now have to meet four main criteria.

  1. Users must be able to perceive the site with at least one of their senses — sight, hearing, or touch.
  2. Everyone must be able to access the site easily — not just people who have good vision, or two hands, or strong English skills.
  3. Users must be able to understand websites.
  4. Websites must be robust with content that will work with future technologies.
Image, button for voice-activated software

Voice-activated software can make all the difference for some people. Image by Dion Gillard. Flickr licence.

Improving web accessibility

Starting from 1 July, the NZ Government Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 requires relevant sites to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG). This will make using websites easier for people with low vision; with reading, learning, or intellectual disabilities; or who use mobile and touch-based devices, or voice assistant and speech recognition software.

Improving web usability

On 1 July, the NZ Government Web Usability Standard 1.3 set a minimum requirement for content to help people use a site. The requirement covers:

Why it happened

Government departments such as the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Health have information that people need to do important things, such as finding out how to get financial assistance or what to expect from medical procedures. If people can’t access this information, they may not be able to make essential payments or access healthcare, so the information has to be easy for everyone to find and use.

Obstacles to access

People who need technology to help them use the internet have previously been at a disadvantage. Users who need screen-readers have run into trouble when a website’s font doesn’t have enough contrast against the background colour and the program can’t see what’s written there. Screen-readers also can’t help when external links have the single descriptor of ‘click here’, with no other information about where the link goes to.

People using voice-activated technology to do things like fill in online forms have been frustrated by webpages whose code commands for surname aren’t the same as the text written next to the field the person’s trying to fill in.

People with motor difficulties have had websites perform actions accidentally because the user hasn’t been able to turn off hotkey commands, like CTRL C or CTRL Z. Online maps have been unusable because the people trying to use them can’t make pincer movements to zoom in or out with their fingers, or swipe with more than one finger.

Adapting to language and technology needs

Long words and jargon have bamboozled people with learning disabilities in the past, meaning they may miss out on vital information such as how to access payments or medical information. The language used has to be easy to understand, as well as easy to see.

As people are shifting away from larger screens and towards laptops and phones, content needs to be responsive not only to different screen sizes and CPU strengths, but to new things like screen orientation. Noting the file size in the document name also means a reader can see if opening it on their phone is going to make it crash.

How can you help?

Writing with these new standards in mind is easy. In fact, you’re probably already doing it if you’re writing in plain language — and if you’re using Microsoft Word’s default settings for your documents, including tools such as heading styles and colours for hyperlinks. If you want to check your document passes an accessibility test, Microsoft has an accessibility checker in the latest version of Office. Find out how to test your document on the Microsoft website.

And how can we help?

Write has three excellent workshops that can help you with creating your web content.

Business Writing Essentials: A full-day thorough introduction to plain language and decluttering your writing.

Writing for the Web: A full-day workshop on writing specifically for websites.

Infographics: Telling Stories With Pictures: A full-day workshop that teaches you how and when to use infographics, and how to write a brief that will give you imagery your readers will love.

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