Two Lawyers and a Widget: A digital accessibility game-changer
Ros Morshead and Danielle Caudwell tell us about their new venture to help organisations become more digitally accessible online.
Two Rotorua friends and lawyers have launched digitally inclusive software that helps minimise barriers and opens doors to wider disability accessibility choices for disabled and impaired website users.
The ongoing impact of Covid-19 has changed the lives of many New Zealanders, including that of Danielle Caudwell, an inhouse Lawyer of Te Arawa descent, and Ros Morshead, a private practice lawyer with a personal interest in technology, both of whom were seeking other challenges outside their professional careers.
Between them their lives were touched by digital accessibility in different ways. Then out of the sky fell a widget that started a digital accessibility journey the two never expected to be on.
New Zealand’s digital accessibility void
“Fast forward several months and iaccess was born” says Danielle.
“We discovered that New Zealand’s general response to anything resembling meaningful website inclusion and accessibility for those with visual, physical and cognitive impairments lags well behind other countries, and is pretty much non-existent. In fact, most New Zealand businesses and organisations don’t address digital accessibility at any level and have a long way to go when it comes to addressing the human right to equal access to online content and information for everyone.
“Covid-19 has forced a fundamental shift from human-first interaction to a digital-first society that drives home existing accessibility disadvantages. Yet even before the arrival of Covid. digital accessibility is a wider-society conversation New Zealand just doesn’t seem to have had.
“We recognised a gap in the need for simple website accessibility options, collaborated with an Irish developer, and it’s all unfolded from there.”
Why is digital accessibility important and who should be paying attention?
Ros agrees the digital accessibility situation is dismal.
“Digital accessibility has been amplified as a result of Covid-19, and it’s non-negotiable given daily life has largely moved online. There doesn’t seem to be much public awareness of the New Zealand Government’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 which aligns with both Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, the international standard for web accessibility.
“Nor do many seem to know of the mandatory obligation on government departments and their agencies to ensure their websites meet the New Zealand standards from July 2019. In effect the standards mean online content and services must be accessible at no cost to users, including to people who are disabled or impaired. But all New Zealand businesses and organisation should be thinking about planning and strategies for inclusive digital accessibility too, because it’s now more important than ever.
“So, if anyone has to ask ‘why?’, then they’ve missed the conversation that minimising barriers and improving accessibility is also about rights, responsibility, dignity, and helping everyone succeed. And from a business perspective it only takes one person to champion change that can transform the conscience of an organisation and increase competitive advantage too. If ever there was a time to prioritise digital leadership and governance for the future, it’s now.”
What is a ‘widget’ and what does it do?
“Even we learned a ‘widget’ is actually a ‘thing’”, laughs Ros. “Put simply, a widget is a small piece of code embedded in a host website that doesn’t need to be downloaded by a person in order to use it. In contrast, an app (application) is a software programme that must be downloaded by a person in order to use it. The reality is everyone freely uses all sorts of apps and widget programmes every single day without a second thought”.
Danielle explains further “The widget itself is artificially intelligent technology that enables business and organisations the option to easily integrate a website accessibility interface for the website audience without changing the underlying site – with no cost or download required by a user. And it can be applied to individual pages or all pages on a website.
“The widget works with the simple click of an icon activating a pop-up menu containing a selection of assistive and corrective web page ‘overlay’ tools that a person chooses to meet their particular accessibility need. The tools range from changing font type and size, horizontal and vertical font spacing, reading ruler, colour blindness user tools, dyslexia user tools including dyslexia fonts, contrast ratio adjustment, hide gifs/images, alter line focus, changing cursor size, alter text/background/link colour preferences among other assistive tools.
“Further features planned include page de-cluttering reader mode, language translate, and immersive reader for Chrome. What the widget does is really quite extraordinary” she says.
“Importantly, to maintain privacy and security, the widget itself contains no tracking cookies and doesn’t store or collect any user information. Conveniently though, any settings a person chooses from the accessibility menu can be stored on a user’s browser ready for the next time they visit the same site.”
Digital inclusivity is the future and there’s no going back
“There is no single solution that can solve every conceivable accessibility need, but there are a number of simple ways any business or organisation can implement a digitally inclusive practice and culture – and user accessibility options like the widget is one of them.,” notes Ros.
“Inclusive accessibility starts with adopting a whole-of-business approach coupled with making various changes to improve website content and design. Even better if a user-first approach is adopted at the outset of website design. But change is hard, website tweaks will never go far enough, and getting everyone on board and/or starting from scratch may not always be realistic or possible. That’s why the accessibility widget is certainly a game changer as part of a suite of solutions complimenting any digital accessibility journey.”
To find out more about the iaccess widget visit www.iaccess.org.nz