MIQ booking system 'inaccessible' and 'discriminatory' — blind community

New Zealand's MIQ booking system has been described as "inaccessible" and "discriminatory" by the blind community.

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The country’s booking system is “inaccessible” and “discriminatory” to those who can’t see. Source: 1 NEWS

Auckland woman Martine Abel-Williamson was meant to be in Spain this week after becoming the first New Zealander elected as president of the World Blind Union.

But she couldn't get around a security check called CAPTCHA, built into the booking process.

"It's quite inaccessible to blind people because you've got to line up vehicles and bicycles and boats and there's a lot of visual things to prove you're a human, instead of just a question everyone could answer", she said.

When she called MIQ to ask for help, she says she was refused it.

"I tried to explain to them why I would need support with the form filling because of the visual support requirements. Not because I need special treatment. That was still denied."

By the time she found a sighted person to help, all the rooms were taken.

The Association of Blind Citizens NZ said Abel-Williamson was discriminated against, and it's not fair.

Abel-Williamson told 1 NEWS that with CAPTCHA, there's often an audible option but said, "it is quite distorted, so by the time you try to remember, it's inaccessible".

Digital training and testing specialist at Blind Low Vision NZ, Michael Law, agreed.

"The issue with the audio captcha is that it is often long and distorted, being hard to understand and recount even for those with good hearing. When you add a screen reader voice on top of this, it becomes even more challenging for non-visual users, especially those with additional hearing difficulties," he told 1 NEWS.

"Captcha can be implemented in an accessible way, and as simple as checking a box."

"Accessibility in general varies greatly with websites, including completing of online forms, and this is typically where captcha presents, so inaccessibility at that point impairs our users’ ability to independently complete forms"

1 NEWS put the concerns to Megan Main, the joint head of MIQ, who said the "absolute goal and commitment is to make our systems as accessible as possible for anyone who needs to use them".

"We are keen to receive feedback on how we can make improvements to the system and if Ms Abel-Williamson able to share more details on what alternatives she supports, as well as information on the screen reader she uses."

Martine Abel-Williamson, president of the World Blind Union. Source: 1 NEWS

Chief Executive of the Association of Blind Citizens, Rose Wilkinson, told 1 NEWS the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has known about the issue for months.

"To my knowledge the situation was drawn to their attention two months ago... we had somebody returning to NZ from the blind community who was having the same challenges ... and they reported their experiences to MBIE."

Wilkinson said the association's continuously reminding the Government "of the need to ensure their 'new' websites are accessible, usable, and designed to Government’s own Web Standards".

"When they're not followed, what happens is someone like Martine, who's actually on the world stage now as the President of World Blind Union, is unable to do the task she needs to do, independently.

"Government has not met the expectations nor its own requirements of the web design, it has not met Martine's needs, and by not providing her support it has, in effect, discriminated against her".

Abel-Williamson said even if you get assistance, "then it's a very visual process to sit online the whole time and watch for the dates to come up".

The event Abel-Williamson's missed this week was the World Blindness Summit, hosted in Spain.

Abel-Williamson missed a fully-funded trip to attend and officiate the General Assembly of the World Blindness Summit.

"My time came and went for my flight ... and I forfeited that, because I didn't want to get stuck," she said.

Instead, she delivered her first speech as World Blind Union president virtually.

"Here I am, supposed to become the leader of an organisation that's all about capacity building, independence," Abel-Williamson said.

"I travel independently, I shop independently ... I've got to do everything ... then to get to a situation where you're made to feel helpless and useless".

She is hoping next time she will "have an equal and even chance, to actually grab these opportunities, because they are few and far between".