I’m proud to live in New Zealand.
We’re a progressive little country with a 38-year-old female Prime Minister, the third woman to hold the role, who has just had a baby while in office.
Right now, we’re celebrating the 125th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. We were the first country in the world to do this.
We’ve made serious errors regarding the Treaty that was signed between the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand and the European settlers, but we’ve also implemented serious remedial measures and are increasingly embracing the Maori culture and language.
Given what’s happening in some other western countries right now, I’m proud of this little nation of ours.
However, things keep happening here that remind me New Zealanders with disabilities have a long way to go before our rights to be accommodated by our Government are understood, respected and realised. When it comes to utopian ideas of a fair go for everyone, we’re far from there as far as disabled people are concerned.
I blogged earlier in the year about Statistics New Zealand’s failure to provide me, as someone who is totally blind, with an accessible code for New Zealand’s Census. I’ll be talking to a Parliamentary select committee about that topic later this month.
Now, sadly, I’m back to chronicle a far-from-optimal experience with CourierPost.
For those outside New Zealand reading this, CourierPost is a courier service run by New Zealand Post. New Zealand Post is a State-Owned Enterprise, so it’s run as a company, but it’s fully Government owned.
I don’t know if state-owned enterprises are expected to conform to best practice in terms of New Zealand Government guidelines, but if not, I ask why not.
This episode started with a gift for my wife Bonnie’s birthday from my mother. My mother is now in her 80s, isn’t very mobile, is no longer able to drive, and therefore reliant on help to do any shopping. If you have elderly parents who once could drive but now cannot, or perhaps you became blind later in life and you drove when you were sighted, you’ll know the sense of frustration and deprivation that comes from not being able to go somewhere when you want.
She was able to obtain assistance to purchase a locket for Bonnie and put a package together containing it and a small amount of cash (something I would have advised against had I known about it).
Someone took the parcel to a Post Shop for her, where it was dispatched via CourierPost. The tracking number was brought home to Mum, and she texted it to me. I added it to my Parcel app for tracking.
On Monday, 27 August early in the afternoon, the Parcel app showed that it had been delivered. No one rang the doorbell, and our Ring Video Doorbell didn’t detect any motion at the front door.
I then knew I needed to go searching. I want to go into some detail about that process, because many sighted people may not have given much thought to what happens if you’re blind and a package claims to be delivered but you can’t find it. When I went outside to check the front doorstep, there was no sign of any parcel. It wasn’t in the letterbox. An Aira agent couldn’t see it. I even asked one of my adult children if they could come over to see if it had been placed somewhere unusual. It’s not the first time I’ve had problems with parcels. On one occasion, we gave up as lost a present for my daughter, only to find it several months later, tossed in the bushes. On another occasion, an important accessibility-related item was delivered to a street with the same name as ours in Auckland. We live in Wellington. New Zealand Post continued to blame the sender, until we could provide evidence that the parcel was addressed correctly, at which point they initiated a “recovery operation”. So, it seemed appropriate to check the bushes and all sorts of unusual places.
After this thorough check, which cost me the price of an Uber ride since I was asking one of my kids to go out of their way for me, I reported the parcel missing to CourierPost.
It took two phone calls, 24-hours apart, before I finally received a call back from an investigator almost 48 hours after the parcel was misdelivered. That’s far longer than the four business hours they promise for a call back in a situation like this. That said, the communications, when they have occurred, have all been courteous.
Eventually, they seemed to acknowledge that the parcel had been dropped at the wrong address, and that there was no GPS evidence indicating the courier had ever been here.
Obviously, getting a package to its rightful destination is what CourierPost is supposed to do. It’s their whole reason for being. But any business is made up of humans, and humans make mistakes sometimes. I’ve had the joy of my airline baggage being lost often enough to know that, and most of the many packages I get sent via CourierPost turn up uneventfully. So occasionally, stuff happens, I get that. That’s life. But, what matters in a situation like this is how the customer is treated and what remedial measures are put in place.
We had a package successfully delivered last Saturday, and at that time I spoke to the driver, who might have been the driver who misdelivered our missing package because he raised the lost item with me voluntarily and seemed to believe he knew exactly where it had been dropped in error. Apparently, CourierPost left a note at the address. Given that it was a Saturday when occupants of the house were more likely to be home, I was somewhat perplexed about why he didn’t pay a visit to the address, explaining the situation and asking for the parcel.
The saga of lodging a claim
CourierPost has now given up the package for lost, despite my questioning whether enough has been done to recover it if the driver is so certain where it was dropped. It’s therefore necessary to lodge a claim for reimbursement. My mother, as stated previously, is in her 80s. Despite my repeated promotion of the benefits of electronic transactions, she has never owned a credit card, doesn’t even use a money card, and pays for everything in cash. This is, of course, her right as a consumer. Not anticipating that CourierPost would lose the parcel, she has not kept a receipt for the locket or the cost of the postage, although I would think that since we have the tracking number, CourierPost can trace the package back to its origin of dispatch and at least confirm the cost of postage.
The investigator wondered if my Mum could visit the place the locket was bought from. This is much more difficult when one is elderly, frail and unable to drive.
Mum knows that the locket cost $55. $55 is a small amount for any business, and, I would have thought, worth simply paying to try and make this mess right. It’s not as if she could have anticipated that the item would be lost, or that we are claiming the locket was extremely valuable.
I pointed this out to the investigator, who seems to have no discretion to settle small claims in an expeditious manner, “we have procedures, and those procedures must be followed”. That’s a reflection on the system, not the individual investigator with whom I’ve been dealing.
Annoying, inflexible, bureaucratic, and a true lack of customer focus? Sure. But, what does all this have to do with accessibility? It’s this. Today, I received via email a claims form, a brochure about the claims process, and terms and conditions pertaining to claims. There were three PDF documents in total. All three PDF documents were not the documents themselves but were instead scanned images of the documents. JAWS, my screen reader, can perform optical character recognition on documents, but the formatting was such that it was impossible for me to make sense of them.
In any case, as a Government-owned entity, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to expect New Zealand Post to be culturally aware in a disability context and send me universally accessible forms, particularly given that I’m talking about forms which I must complete because they failed to deliver a package to the right address.
I wrote back to the Claims Officer, it’s moved on from the investigator now and I’m dealing with a new department, saying the following:
“Hi (name redacted), these documents are inaccessible to blind people such as me who use screen reading technology, because they are scanned images of documents, not the documents themselves. As an SOE, my understanding is that NZ Post should be adhering to the Government’s accessibility guidelines and not distributing this sort of material publicly.
If you can send the documents in in accessible format, I’ll be happy to take a read. As it stands, I can’t read them.
The Claims Officer replied promptly with this:
If i send the claim documents via mail, will this suffice?”
Of course, inaccessible hardcopy print is no better than inaccessible images, and I politely told them so.
I’m not blaming the individual in any way at all. I’m sure they have a tough job with customers frustrated by the time a matter reaches their desk. And they will simply have forms on their computer they distribute as a matter of course. But clearly, there’s been no thought, no training, no awareness of accessibility best practice.
It’s left me once again feeling like New Zealand has a long, long way to go. A Government-owned entity lost a parcel of high sentimental but relatively low financial value, and is now putting us through the mill, even to the extent of sending out inaccessible forms to the blind recipient, to add insult to injury in terms of its mistake.
New Zealand Post, and New Zealand Government, surely, we can do better than this?