New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Laws: An Overview

March 30, 2022

New Zealand has relatively clear requirements for digital content, which are detailed in two laws: The Online Practice Guidelines and the Human Rights Act of 1993. Both laws serve an important purpose: About 1.1 million New Zealanders live with disabilities — 24% of the country’s total population — and the best practices of web accessibility help to ensure that they can enjoy the same level of access as those without disabilities.

Below, we’ll examine New Zealand’s web accessibility standards and explain how organizations can maintain compliance. If you’re concerned about whether your website is accessible, get started with a free, confidential accessibility report.

New Zealand’s Online Practice Guidelines for Web Accessibility

In 2010, New Zealand became the first federal government in the world to adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as an official requirement for government websites. The requirement was updated in July 2019 to include new criteria from WCAG 2.1, the most recent version of WCAG at the time this article was written.

The requirement is officially defined in the Online Practice Guidelines, which combines two standards:

  • Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 essentially requires all government websites to fully conform with all checkpoints in WCAG 2.1 Level AA. It contains exceptions for certain types of content that could not meet the guidelines without losing important functionality. 
  • Web Usability Standard 1.3 includes requirements to standardize privacy policies, hyperlink text, and other usability features across different government websites.

Usability and accessibility are closely related concepts, and one of the goals of the Online Practice Guidelines is to provide a better experience for all users regardless of their abilities. 

As we’ve discussed in other articles, the best practices of accessible design tend to improve usability — and deliver numerous other benefits including improved search engine optimization and an enhanced brand image.

Related: The Business Case for an Accessible Website

New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 Requirements

While many international accessibility laws are based on WCAG, New Zealand’s law was the first to explicitly require compliance with WCAG Level AA checkpoints. Government agencies are not required to follow Level AAA checkpoints, but accessible design choices are strongly encouraged (read about the differences between WCAG conformance levels).

WCAG’s checkpoints provide guidance for addressing common issues that affect people with disabilities. For instance, people with low vision may use screen readers (software that outputs text as audio or braille). If a website doesn’t include alternative text for images, these users may be unable to perceive some content. Likewise, if a website isn’t accessible with just a keyboard, a person who doesn’t use a mouse won’t be able to interact with it.

In addition to conforming with WCAG 2.1 Level AA, government agencies must:

  • Be prepared to report on conformance on request from the Department of Internal Affairs
  • Submit a risk assessment and a management plan to address non-conformance issues

To make compliance easier, the Department of Internal Affairs offers Web Standards clinics, which are conducted via Zoom every second Thursday from 2 p.m to 4 p.m. These informal meetings allow webmasters to ask questions about accessibility and usability, and they’re open to both the public and private sectors.

Related: The 5 Most Common Website Accessibility Issues (And How To Fix Them)

Does New Zealand’s Web Accessibility Standard apply to private businesses?

New Zealand does not require private businesses to comply with the Web Accessibility Standard 1.1 unless those businesses provide services as government vendors (for example, if a private business creates a website for a New Zealand government entity).

However, all organizations must comply with the Human Rights Act of 1993, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities — and following WCAG can help ensure compliance with that law. WCAG is widely considered the standard for digital accessibility, and full conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA demonstrates a strong commitment to providing an equitable experience for all users.

New Zealand businesses that don’t provide accessible services may face private litigation and fines under the Human Right Act. Worldwide, the number of web accessibility lawsuits continues to increase each year, and given the enormous benefits of accessible design, private companies have strong incentives to prioritize users with disabilities.

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

WCAG provides a framework for building better content

Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), WCAG uses a principle-based approach to help webmasters make better decisions when designing and developing content. 

The four principles of WCAG state that content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Websites designed with these principles work better for all users regardless of their habits, abilities, or the technologies they use.

To earn conformance with WCAG 2.1 Level AA, organizations should work with an experienced accessibility partner — preferably, as early as possible. Designing content for accessibility is much easier and less expensive than addressing issues afterwards. 

However, digital accessibility is a worthwhile investment at any stage of development. An accessibility partner can provide training, test content, and provide remediation guidance to help your organization earn and maintain conformance. To learn more, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to speak with an expert.

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