Why does Universal Access seem not to be a part of 2Degrees Company Culture?

, posted: 7-May-2012 14:18

Most of us know obvious examples of businesses not living up to their legal obligations when it comes to providing services to disabled people. A blind person gets refused service in a restaurant, because someone on staff doesn't know that a guide dog can't be refused entry. A building fails to be wheelchair accessible, preventing someone from entering or making it difficult and humiliating. The Internet, for many, is a much less familiar or clear-cut area. A few years ago, I took an airline to the Human Rights Commission, because they required disabled people to phone the call centre to complete a booking. Everyone else could complete it online, meaning that disabled people were being provided with a lesser service online by virtue of their disability. That issue went to mediation, and because of the way our Human Rights legislation works, there really isn't any case law. But the issue I want to recount is just as aggravating to me as if I were refused entry to a public place because of a guide dog. I've been watching 2Degrees closely since its launch in 2009, and in fact rushed down to pick up a bunch of prepaid sims to switch our family over. Kiwis love an underdog, the little guy who takes on the big duopoly, and they haven't disappointed in terms of the way they've shaken up the market. Even if we're not 2Degrees customers, we owe them our thanks, because we're all benefiting from their entry. Ultimately, we ported back from 2Degrees in those early days for three reasons. Edge was a little restricting,(there was no 3G in those days) and data at 50C per MB was pricy. We had issues sending texts to 2Degrees numbers internationally. I travel a lot, and have an AT&T SIM so I can work effectively when mobile in the US. Simon here on Geekzone really went out of his way to help when he certainly wasn't obligated to - a great experience. We found Vodafone Family really suited our usage patterns at the time. The first two issues have a solution now. 2Degrees has 3G, and with iMessage, texting is irrelevant. 2Degrees monthly plans would suit me very well. Sometimes, I'm out of the country for over a month at a time, meaning that I pay for minutes I haven't used. 2Degrees offer rollover minutes, so when I'm back home, I can chat up a storm with my family, friends and business associates because I've got plenty of minutes in the bank. Data is reasonably priced, with some plans applying to periods longer than a month. Again, I'm a perfect fit since there'll be some months when I use no data at all when overseas, and other months where I want to go crazy with the data. Now, in a move that has many of us on other carriers salivating, you can share data across devices on 2Degrees. Fabulous! I could use my laptop on my mobile data plan with out draining my iPhone's battery, by firing up my data card. 2Degrees gets more and more compelling. The trouble is, my experiences with them suggest that universal design and accessibility is simply not a part of their company culture. When I first became a customer of 2Degrees, the pivotal link on their site, the one that takes you to the Your 2Degrees section, had no text label. So as a blind person, I couldn't find how to log in, choose my number, etc. When there's no text associated with a link, all my screen reader can do to try and help me out, is read the URL of the link, or the name of the graphic. After a lot of trial and error, I worked out which graphical link got me to the Your 2Degrees section. This particular issue has long since been addressed, so good on them for that. When 2Degrees unveiled their pay monthly plans, initially, the only way you could sign up was if you had a driver's license. Now, obviously there are enough idiots on the road as it is without a blind guy getting behind the wheel, at least, with today's commercially available technology. Watch this space. So once again, I was keen to sign up, but thwarted. This too has been addressed, I can now use my passport. But why launch in such an exclusionary manner? this issue affected more than just blind people. Many people cannot, or choose not to, drive for all kinds of reasons. Of course, this issue is not unique to 2Degrees. We have to be careful that driver's licenses aren't turning into a state ID by proxy. In the driver's license case, I went through their call centre, and finally got to their legal department. They did genuinely seem concerned, and they have fixed it. There is one outstanding issue which remains unresolved, despite me bringing it to their attention repeatedly, and it's not a trivial one. I can visit Telecom, Vodafone, and all the virtual network operators, and peruse their plans at my leisure, making comparisons about what they're offering and which plan is right for me. But 2Degrees have always displayed their monthly plans as a graphic, rather than as a standard HTML table. I have no idea why, but it shuts me out. I can find no way on the site, anywhere, to read a textual description of their plans, how many minutes you get, and how much they cost. I've pointed this out several times on Twitter, but sadly, the majority of the 2Degrees tweets that come up on my timeline are retweets of customers saying how marvellous they are. I had a great conversation with Stuart Maxwell of Choice Mobile, who couldn't have been more helpful. He took the time to write a list of plans and their costs. You never forget someone who goes out of their way like that, and if I ever do switch to 2Degrees, it will be through Choice Mobile as a thank you. He too indicated he had passed on the issue of the inaccessibility of the plan data to 2Degrees. That was in December of 2010. The plans have changed since then. The practice of using an image has not. I struggle to see why coding a bit of HTML, why doing it properly in a way that's universally accessible, is such a big deal. 2Degrees is using spectrum in part owned by iwi, people overrepresented in unemployment statistics and low income...like disabled people. How is it that this carrier, aimed in part at the budget-conscious end of the market, can repeatedly introduce products and services without thinking through principles of universal accessibility? For example, has their Snapper app been tested with the screen readers available for Android? Now before I get the obvious questions, full disclosure. I have kids who can see. It's easy enough for me to fire up the browser and ask them to go through the data with me. But that's not the point. 2Degrees is effectively saying to me that my business isn't important. I'm an informed consumer. Just as some people won't buy battery farm poultry, or clothing manufactured by exploited workers, I can't in good conscience support a carrier that continues to drop the accessibility ball. And I would like to hope that it matters to other kiwis too. Not only is universal design good for all of us in terms of maximum browser/device compatibility, but you never know if you might be a blind person in the future. Age-related vision loss is extremely common. I was motivated to write this, when I was so delighted to read about 2Degrees shared data plan, and for that matter their innovative work with Snapper, only to feel locked out by not being able to read the data about their plans independently. What 2Degrees is doing is game changing. I really am glad they're around. Let's hope they will now change their website, and commitment to accessibility, for the better.

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Comment by juha, on 7-May-2012 14:46

Agree about Stuart - very, very helpful.

You make some very good points about accessibility. As an aside, locking textual information into graphics and Flash objects limits its dissemination and usefulness to everyone, from machines to people. It's so easy to avoid as well...


Comment by gzt, on 7-May-2012 16:18

I agree. Accessiblity is part of good web design. Btw - your post made the Technology section of Google's NZ news page. :  ).


Comment by Kyanar, on 7-May-2012 16:44

I couldn't agree more.  Too many companies seem to consider accessibility as an afterthought (refer Sky TV finally launching closed captions) and it would be good to see them finally seeing it as priority.  I have the good fortune to be able to see fine (with expensive lenses, but you get the point) but it could very easily be different.

As a side note, this post actually ranks above every single other post about the shared data plans.  You actually managed to monopolise the top news spot.


Comment by Jo, on 7-May-2012 16:52

Really interesting post, thanks.


Comment by hellonearthisman, on 7-May-2012 20:03

Great post, Slingshot is also a very bd site when it comes to Accessibility.


Comment by Will, on 7-May-2012 23:23

I'm not blind, but I do like things done right - which means the crappy flash 2 degrees website also annoys me a great deal. It also doesn't work properly on mobile devices. It seems like they just got someone's 12 year old nephew to build the site for free :P

I do use and like 2 degrees for the other reasons you mentioned though.


Comment by Mark, on 8-May-2012 13:29

Nicely written article, but ....

You can't label a company as being inaccesible to those with disabilities just because you have been inconvienenced (sorry no idea how to spell that word .. or if it's a real word even!).  People and companies cannot think of every single circumstance and have them all covered off, it's just not possible!

I'm sure 2Degrees (and most other companies) do their best to cater to as many people as they can, and the minorities that they miss I'm sure they will do their best to assist ... like you said you could just ring them up and ask, in which case a real person will be spending time helping you directly ?


Author's note by jmosen, on 8-May-2012 13:49

Universal design means that a website is accessible to everyone. if Telecom can do it, if Vodafone can do it, if my power company can do it, if the airlines can do it, what is it about 2Degrees that you think gives it the right to be different?

I'll happily call the call centre, if everyone else has to. The law says businesses can't discriminate against the disabled. And writing an HTML table isn't rocket science. Teenagers in computer studies in high school get taught how to do that.


Comment by Mark, on 8-May-2012 14:39

Meh ... I'm trying real hard to word this so I don't come across as a complete uncaring tosser, so please do excuse me if some does leak out.
You say the law says businesses cannot discriminate .. fair enough, but nothing you've written shows that they are discriminating, have told you to sod off they don't care about blind people ?  Does their website have that written on it ?  No they don't, they've just overlooked that not everyone who has the capability to visit their website can actually read it!
Should they also provide a Hebrew translation of the website ?  Failure to do so would be discrimination to orthodox jews after all ... you have to have some leeway ... (and this is the tosser part) .. you are after all the minority and it is not reasonable for the entire world to have to be adjusted so that you can do what everyone else has to do, the world can try it's best but there have to be cut off points and things will always get overlooked.


Author's note by jmosen, on 8-May-2012 14:52

As you can see from the comments, it's actually you who are the minority, for which I am glad. Others here know the law and the principle of universal design.


Comment by chiefie, on 8-May-2012 20:05

The lack of persona profiling and reaching out to disability group for help on testing their website functionality, or cutting corner to cut cost.

Not acceptable and certainly lots of room for improvement.


Comment by stuartm, on 9-May-2012 10:48

Mark - your attempt to not come across as an uncaring tosser failed... :-)
Your opinion on whether or not the disabled should have the same rights as able-bodied humans is irrelevant, the law is pretty clear on the matter.


Comment by richms, on 10-May-2012 13:06

They cant even make your 2degrees work on a mobile - the very devices and service they are selling, using the cop out excuse to visit it on a computer.

the whole site seems to be written in some horridly inflexible broken framework. I recall once when I was looking at phones I did what I normally do and opened things I wanted to compare in tabs only to be bitched at by the website for using the back button. That seems to have been fixed somewhat but layout is still broken on mobile and many desktop configurations.


Comment by jonb, on 10-May-2012 16:02

I'm sympathetic to the problem, but I think singling out 2degrees isn't particularly helpful. They've fixed the show-stoppers like only accepting a Drivers License, and there are alternative methods to communicate such as calling them or going into a shop.

Universal design is a set of guidelines, and not a legal requirement. That is either a good or abd thing, depending on your point of view.  A website is primarily a visual medium, and the ability to use tools to scrape the information into an aural medium is almost a happy side-effect, especially if you compare websites to print as a medium. Universal design, for a lot of projects, will unfortunately be put in the 'nice to have' category for most companies, I suspect.

There are hundreds of shops in Auckland alone that have no wheelchair access. Wheelchair users are forced to be 'informed consumers' and not shop at those places. I have a severe stutter at times but many places only allow me to interact by phone. There are many books that are never printed in braille or audio-books. Now with iPads lots of e-magazines are published as a series of image files only, and loads of e-mailers are sent mainly as images - Noel Leeming to name just one. Images on websites are often used as a method to try and stop screen scrapers from gathering product and price information for price comparision/shopping/competitors - in that scenario using might universal design be actively discouraged as part of the design process?

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make, just that there are other issues to consider aswell as just changing a gif to a html table.

Regards, and don't give up the campaigning.


Author's note by jmosen, on 10-May-2012 18:52

A number of suppositions to correct, and errors of fact here.

First, universal design is a legal requirement in New Zealand. The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds, including disability. It may be argued in some circumstances that accommodating someone with a disability places an unreasonable hardship on a business. However there is absolutely no way creating an HTML table would fall into that category, particularly since on the very page where their pricing plans are listed, the data on the price of calls per minute when your allocation has been exhausted is, you guessed it, an HTML table.

Second, the web is not primarily a visual medium, it is primarily a textual medium. Clearly it also contains graphics, audio and video, but primarily, it is textual. One can choose to consume that text via a screen, synthetic speech or Braille.

I would be very surprised if there are still hundreds of shops in Auckland that are not wheelchair accessible, since the building code was updated a long time ago now to make wheelchair accessibility a requirement. Even if your point is correct, taking 5 minutes to generate an HTML table hardly compares with modifying a building.

Yes, the issue of many magazines on the iPad being image only is a serious one and advocacy is continuing on that.

In terms of CAPTCHA, the image verification you see on many sites, that is also a problem, but if you look, you'll note that many CAPTCHA tests now contain an audio challenge option, again because of the principle of universal design. You may also like to check out a Firefox plug-in called Webvisum.


Comment by Nik Rolls, on 12-May-2012 10:56

A very well written article, and some very valid points.

I do feel like you're taking it a little too personally, however. Using images instead of text is not singling out those with a visual disability -- it is simply bad web design.

In actual fact is that it has only been widely considered bad web design in the last few years. Previous to that it was the norm as designers moved from plain-text websites to image-based ones, with image headers, buttons, etc. I still come across websites on the internet that are little more than baked JPGs.

Furthermore, it is still a fairly common practice for designers to build full-flash websites which are hit-and-miss when it comes to screen readers, because when designing in flash there is less of a feeling of obligation to use actual text.

So you could call this bad web design, you could call it work by an out of touch web designer, or you could call it an oversight. But I am pretty certain that there was no thought of cutting corners on accessibility for visually impaired customers when one designer decided that the easiest way to show a good-looking cross-browser table was to bake it into an image.


Author's note by jmosen, on 12-May-2012 12:00

I don't disagree with your point, and I think you may misunderstand mine. Discrimination doesn't have to be intentional for discrimination to occur. I'm not suggesting that someone sat there and thought, "how can we discriminate against blind people today". My point is that if universal access were a part of 2Degrees' company culture, its corporate ethos, then managers in the company would make a point of drumming into all staff that wherever possible, services need to be provided in a manner that are accessible to the widest number of people. The fact that the use of images as a substitute for an HTML table, something very easily fixable, has been allowed to go on now since 2010 without someone caring enough to fix it says a lot. And what it says a lot about, is the culture in the company.


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Jonathan Mosen
Phillipstown
New Zealand