South Africa Census 2022 – Not Counting The Blind

Text to speech

Written by Hendrik Steyn and Hanif Kruger

 

In South Africa, a census is conducted every ten years or so. This was supposed to happen in 2021, but it has been pushed back to 2022.

 

With the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing, almost everyone would prefer not to be counted face-to-face (do not forget the criminal activities that took place during the last census in 2011).

 

Statistics South Africa (STATS SA) created an online platform where an individual can register to do the census in four ways:

  • Online,
  • face-to-face,
  • assisted online or
  • telephonically

 

The good, bad, and simply inaccessible

People who want to register to be counted online when the census begins in February 2022 can go to getcounted.statssa.gov.za and click the “Get registered to be counted” button.

Census Registration (statssa.gov.za)

 

That is what we did.

 

it asked us to select Type of registration.

 

Here you are presented with two choices.

 

  • A dwelling unit (DU) is a structure, part of a structure, or a group of structures that is used for residential purposes
  • Special Dwelling Institutions (SDI) are establishments which provide a communal type of accommodation for reasons of employment, study, special needs, legal requirement or recreation.

 

For some reason, this screen kept on bouncing around.  But, I’ll just blame it on Microsoft’s browser for now.

 

On the second try, I was able to select dwelling unit from the combo box and I then pressed the confirm button.

 

 

When that button is pressed, the user is taken to a screen that asks a series of questions, including your name, surname, and preferred method of communication: Email, SMS, or both are acceptable.

 

As a general principle, blind people, especially those who know the basics, resort to using the tab key in order to navigate filling in forms online.

 

It just makes a lot of sense and helps to keep things simple.

 

However, when you tab through these edit fields, the feedback that a blind person get is as follows:

 

  • Lucky
  • Maja
  • Combo box Required invalid entry
  • Cell number
  • Confirm Cell phone number
  • 073 456 7890
  • Email
  • Select mode of collection confirm Email address
  • combo box required
  • Please select a province
  • Back button
  • Next  button.

 

Totally nonsensical, if you ask me.

 

 

And here’s where things get even more tricky: while the rest of the page is simple to navigate with a screen reader, using the arrow keys, the communication preferences buttons (for lack of a better term) cannot be accessed via a regular keyboard.

 

However, you as the user are unaware of this until you click the “next” button and are unable to proceed to the next screen. This is because you did not select your communication preferences.

 

This page is littered with mislabelled combo boxes. To navigate to the next HTML element, most screen reader users use the tab key. In this case, the labels are positioned incorrectly. Instead, in order to make sense of what’s going on, you must use the arrow keys to ensure that all of your information is captured correctly.

 

Not ideal at all.

 

I found the Select preferred mode of communication option but, I guess that Stats SA will have to lock me up as I was not able to select anything, due to the inaccessibility of the website.

Alternatively, they are probably saying that I am too (dumb) to select that option.  Right?  Right.

 

Conclusion

This web site was tested on Windows with NVDA and Jaws. It was not put through its paces on a mobile device. If universal design was incorporated from the start of this platform’s development, it would not have been necessary for any user (regardless of ability) to experiment with different devices, screen readers, or operating systems in order to be counted.

 

Getting counted is the right thing to do, but doing so face-to-face should be avoided if you have no or low vision.

 

While census takers may have identification, visually impaired people would most probably not be able to identify them, leaving them open for potential exploitation by unsavoury characters.

 

Finally, we have a few questions:

 

  1. Do disabled people form a part of the South African population?
  2. If we are, why are we, once again, unaccounted for (bad pun intended)?
  3. What will happen if we refuse to stand up and be counted? We will either receive a R10,000.00 fine or a prison sentence.
  4. Our tax money is just as good as anyone else’s, and it will cost the South African taxpayer R3.2 billion to be counted. Why are we, as disabled people, required to pay taxes to help fund this census if we are not included and empowered to participate independently?

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