By David Saxberg, our Inclusion Advisor.
David is totally blind and uses a screen reader daily. He recently came up against some barriers when looking for a new home to rent. In his article below, he explains the things that people with disability might need to think about when moving to a new community and how the rental process could be made more accessible.
Things to consider when looking for a new community
As a person with disability, looking for accommodation that will suit my needs can be a little tricky. You need to consider public transport like buses and trains. You also need to think about the distance to the station or stop and whether there are any roads that could be difficult to cross. For example, roads that don’t have traffic lights, or have slip lanes, angled crossings and large roundabouts.
You also need to find out how far shops and medical facilities are. For people that don’t have a car – how good are the footpaths for walking? And for wheelchair users – how good are the ramps? The more things you need to think about when searching for housing, the more limiting it becomes. But these are all aspects we must consider to make sure we can access our community independently.
The NDIS can help us with capacity building skills like orientation, mobility and community participation including assistance with shopping. However, I find these services are not always available when you need them. When looking for housing you have to maximise independence and make sure you can travel safely around your area.
House hunting can be fun, but inaccessible
I personally find it interesting to read the text description and maybe take a tour of the place to see if it interests me. But what if you can’t access the website? What if the information is not accessible for screen reader users or it can’t be navigated by keyboard alone? For partially sighted users, an inaccessible colour scheme could prevent you from reading text or getting the most out of the photos on the site.
As a blind person, I find the best website to use is www.realestate.com. This is because I’m able to filter my searches and apply for inspections. But even when I can use a website, the remainder of the application process can turn out to be inaccessible.
Why should people with disability be forced to fill out online applications that are inaccessible or difficult to understand?
According to the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 43% of Australians have low levels of literacy. Without fully understanding what you’re filling in, rental forms and applications can be incredibly difficult.
How can we make this a better experience?
I don’t think this is fair, so I have a couple of suggestions to make it a smoother process.
1. Real estate sites could link to apps or sites like myGov to allow you to fill in online applications with the accurate information already stored in your government account. This way it would be easier to digitally attach relevant cards like Medicare, concession cards or government issued ID.
2. The application form should be in plain language. Make it clear, well-organised and easy to understand so all users can fill out the forms to the best of their ability. Best practice is to make sure your form is also written in HTML so that screen readers can pick up the text.
3. Allow users to save what they have already written in the form and ensure that exiting the site will not delete their progress. Being able to save when needed will help people who have trouble using a computer for an extended period.
4. If the form is successfully submitted, provide an online portal that real estate organisations can use to upload forms or contracts such as the tenancy agreement form. This way they can be read, understood and digitally signed. They will also be easier to keep track of. The real estate organisation I am with has an online portal for repairs. Portals like this, when they are accessible, can be greatly helpful.
5. Provide the entry report in an accessible format and allow users to fill out the report in a format that suit their needs. For example, someone might use a mobile device and then take pictures of a form to zoom in or highlight sections. This is not just useful for people with disability, but for anyone who might using a web format other than desktop.
House hunting can be fun, but’s that’s only if the process is accessible and inclusive. All Australians deserve a fair and equal chance of finding a rental property to live in.