Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

Brush Off From NZ Minister of Transport

Back in February 2009, I wrote to the New Zealand Minister of Transport to complain about a couple of disability/accessibility related issues. I finally just received a "proper" response from the Minister, although I think the answer is a cop-out, and a brush-off.

I attended an event in Warkworth in mid-February. On my way back, I used the new Northern Gateway Toll Road and was unable to pay the toll because the manual toll station didn’t have a parking space I could use, there were no curb cuts, and even if the first two issues had been addressed, the touch screen on the payment machine is too high to reach from a wheelchair. This was a brand new facility, and these three aspects breached the NZ Building Code.

When I got home, I went to the website to pay for my toll, and discovered that the site required JavaScript to be usable. Never mind the e-government guidelines…

I wrote to Hon. Steven Joyce, our Minister of Transport to raise the issues with him, and ask him how such a gross oversight could happen, when things would be fixed, and how they would be fixed. The letter went out on 26 February, with a CC to the Minister for Disabilities Issues, to the Rodney District Council (who had to approve the plans), to the ICT Branch of State Services Commission (e-guidelines), to Tollroad NZ (in charge of the actual Toll Road), and to the Human Rights Commission.

I received a brief note from the Minister’s office saying the letter was in front of him. I also heard back from the Human Rights Commission wanting to know if I wished to file a complaint, which I didn’t at the time. As I hadn’t heard back from the Minister in early April, I sent a follow-up letter asking if there had been any news on these issues. At the end of April I received another letter from the Minister’s office saying the letter had "been blaced before the Minister for his consideration and you may expect a reply in due course".

In other words -"shut up, you’re not a priority, and he’ll get back to you when he gets to it". Which is fair enough, a Minister has many important issues to deal with. It does kind of irk though that disability access is seen as a low-priority item on the agenda.

Finally, early this week I received a response from the Minister. The letter is dated 2nd July 2009. Below is a copy of the letter. At the end of the blog is a re-typed version of the letter.

Scan of letter from NZ Minister of Transport

The payment station was not accessible because it wasn’t ready yet. It was opened early for a holiday. Hmmm. Ok. My memory of the site, along with the photos I took point to either very recent completion, or still some work to do. I’ll buy that it may not have been ready at the time, although it didn’t *look* like appropriate parking and curb cuts were planned.

No parking, no curb cut
No parking, no curb cut on the right

No parking, no curb cut
And no parking, no curb cut on the left

Manual payment kiosk
Can’t reach touch screen from wheelchair.

That still doesn’t explain why the accessibility of the payment kiosks wasn’t taken into account *before* installing them. It’s fine that the NZTA’s engineers are investigating, but it’s a little bit like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. It’s too little, too late.

As for JavaScript use on the site… I’m not entirely convinced that it is an "inherent feature of internet banking". Even if I were to accept that, it seems odd to me that the entire process for payment of a toll relies on Javascript. Why not limit the use of JS to the "internet banking" step if that’s the case?

As for non-compliance with the e-government guidelines because the NZTA is a Crown entity, hence isn’t bound by them, I find this a poor response. It is technically correct, but it seems wrong. Right, that’s neither here nor there, changing the regulations isn’t the point here. But it seems a cop-out to me that they have been relying on Javascript because they don’t have to comply with the e-government guidelines. One would thik that as a Crown entity, they are working closely with the government and the spirit of complying with accessibility guidelines would cascade down from up top. There’s also the fact that it does reduce accessibility, which when done knowingly is discrimination. To say "yeah, we know, but didn’t do it because these guidelines don’t apply to us" is acknowledging awareness of the problem. Frankly, it strikes me more as a "We couldn’t be bothered" than anything else. Shame on them.

To sum it all up, this response, more than 4 months in the making, feels like a brush-off and isn’t particularly satisfying. I should be glad for small victories, such as the addition of an appropriate parking space and curb cuts. Still, it very much looks like #FAIL to me.

Letter from Minister

02 Jul 2009

Mr Nicolas Steenhout
Address

Dear Nicolas

Thank you for your letter of 26 February 2009 about your experience on the Northen Gateway Toll Road. I note your comments about inadequate wheelchair access at the Titford’s Bridge manual payment point and the use of JavaScript on the toll payment website. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

I also apologise for the difficulties you experienced when using the manual payment station and the toll payment website.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is responsible for administering the toll collection system.

The NZTA advises that the Titford’s Bridge manual payment site was not ready when the toll road was opened early for the Auckland Anniversary weekend. Since then, the NZTA has installed a wide disability car park and ramps up to the footpath. The NZTA’s engineers are also investigating ways to solve the problem of kiosk touch screens being too high for people with disabilities.

Although the NZTA as a Crown entity is not bound by the e-government guidelines, it does adhere to them whenever practicable. In this case, JavaScript is an inherent feature of internet banking and is widely used by banks. Without the use of Javascript the NZTA would be unable to offer its customers the internet banking payment option (POLi).

I hopt this reply has answered your queries. If you have any more questions about the toll system, please contact Mr Ewart Barnsley, the NZTA’s Tolling Communications Manager, on (XX) XXX-XXXX.

Thank you again for raising this matter with me.

Yours sincerely

Signed

Steven Joyce
Minister of Transport

11 thoughts on “Brush Off From NZ Minister of Transport

  1. You should definitely complain to the Human Rights Commission. The Government can and will ignore letters. It can’t ignore an HRC ruling – even if it wouldn’t change much to start with. If every one who was affected lodged a formal complaint some change might happen. You should also write to “Fair Go”. The issue is very televisual. You owe it to others in the community who are less articulate or able to complain. Please.

  2. Javascript is a requirement because the list of accessible banks is dynamic and accessed from the POLi servers. POLi is not a product of the New Zealand Governement it is produced and run by Centricom Pty Ltd so the interface to POLi was written according to POLi guidelines not the Governments. POLi requires this as part of the contract for using it.

  3. @Somebody, thank you for your explanation.

    Still seems wrong that access to the entire web-based payment process requires javascript. To say that the site can’t be made javascript free because it contracts with a company that requires javascript is a bit like saying that the police must break speed limit all the time because the company that equips police cars require a minimum speed of 120Km/h.

    One would think there are ways around this, if some willingness to seek a solution was present in the developers.

    I could, of course, be wrong.

  4. I guess the real question regarding POLi is – how many internet banking sites require Javascript to be turned on to be able to use them?

    It’s a bit of a moot point to complain about POLi requiring Javascript or not if you couldn’t use your internet banking pages with Javascript turned off anyway.

    Anyone care to try to use their internet banking with javascript off and report back?

  5. @Dave, FWIW, I’m able to use online banking at the National Bank of NZ with javascript turned off.

    But what if someone wants to use a credit card rather than online banking to pay the toll. Should they still be limited by the online banking system’s restriction to javascript enabled?

  6. I’d have to disagree with @somebody on just about every count. If you care about accessibility then you wouldn’t engage 3rd party components that demand them. The internet is capable of working just fine without Javascript. Javascript should be used to add to the experience, not to define it. The NZTA not being part of the government feels like a cop-out. If they were covered by the legislation, they couldn’t use Poli because of the legislation then you’d know that Centricom Pty Ltd would jump to make POLi work without it.

  7. Javascript is not necessary to run the internet. It does however enhance things. Like creating dynamic lists.

    Of course there are ways around things, but when you run a business for profit you do them the way of least resistance.

    Would POli change if the NZTA required it, maybe if it was easy enough. However POli has a lot of other clients like Air New Zealand, Jetstar and Virgin Blue who would have to change THEIR interfaces.

    Things seem simple when you have a simplistic view. It would costs millions for NZTA to develop the systems to do what POli does. And I am not talking about a simplistic view I am talking about technology, infrastructure, support, reconciliation, bank validation, consultants, security, developers, licences, accounts and personel.

    If you think this happens by fairy dust you are deluded.

  8. Any competent web developer should be practising ubobtrusive javascript and progressive enhancement techniques so that a core process is functional without javascript. This is particularly so when dealing with a government agency.

    (As a datapoint, I just tried ASB Bank with javascript disabled and their navigation disappeared on some pages. Definitely not progressive enhancement, so shame on them.)

  9. Jonathan, gets worse with Kiwibank sign in. You MUST confirm your login by using your mouse to click on some things. Can’t be done keyboard only… And doesn’t work without Javascript…

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