What ever happened to universal design

This week’s Hutt News headline caught my attention, after having also been pointed out to me by a reader. The headline reads: “Out with the old in with the new … five-story unit for disabled”.

The article noted that the twenty-eight, one bedroom units are to be built by Housing New Zealand (HNZ), on the site of an existing earthquake-prone HNZ building, in Epuni. The new building would include a lift and communal areas for mobility scooters and would be located near the hospital and shops.

While no one would dispute the urgent need for social housing by disabled people as well as non disabled people, the segregation implicit in erecting a building “for the disabled” is disturbing. Also of concern is the implication that it is quite okay to house this already marginalized group on an earthquake prone site.

I wonder if anyone from Housing New Zealand has ever heard of the concept of ‘Universal Design’? This addresses the need for access by creating designs usable by all people, whether or not they are disabled. This is accomplished by designing wider halls and doorways, barrier-free entrances and exits, elevated electrical points, lowered switches, adjustable wardrobe rods and shelves, adjustable counters and other features, as inherent elements in the building. Universal design makes the home usable by all family members, and also recognizes that human abilities change over the life span.

Housing New Zealand only needs to contact the Barrier Free Trust, a long-standing organisation dedicated to universal design, to get all the help they need to ensure accessibility for all.

Web Accessibility

At the weekend I applied to register DRNZ as a company. I had sighted help fortunately for me, as the website was only partially accessible using a screen reader, even once I learned it’s particular foibles. This lead me to think about the Government Web Standards on accessibility, which were established by the State Services Commission way back when …

After my weekend experience and several others I have had lately with government and other websites, I can’t help but wonder: has no one thought through the practical implications of continuous software updates on accessibility? A department might audit accessibility when a website refresh occurs, but how often do they review the site for accessibility? This really needs to be done whenever there is a major website update or rebuild and whenever new versions of both mainstream and adaptive software and various computing platforms are launched. So this means they need to be constantly reviewed.

How can this issue be resolved? Certainly not by guessing about what needs to happen. But by ensuring disabled people are part of the design and maintenance of websites and advice is sought from appropriate disabled people with the knowledge, skills and experience to support accessibility. Average disabled users also need to be consulted, since this is most of us!

Pam MacNeill

Accessible surveys – have your say

Here is some news of a couple of worthwhile surveys relevant to disability responsiveness:

It’s not too late to take the simple and accessible DRNZ survey of just nine questions. We want to find out what people think about the need for greater levels of disability responsiveness in all sectors of Aotearoa New Zealand. We’re still collecting responses and welcome your input at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/L7QDD9S

We will be collating all responses to the survey in a couple of weeks and will feature the findings in the December issue of Newsworthy.

DRNZ recently facilitated a series of ten forums for Workbridge throughout New Zealand. The purpose of the forums was to engage with disabled people about the barriers they face to employment and how Workbridge can help reduce these. Workbridge also asked the community how they want services delivered in future.

A survey which features the questions workshopped at the forums, is available at:


The survey is open until 16 December so why not log on and check it out. We promise it will only take 5 minutes of your time, unless of course you wish to provide additional feedback.