How safe is Aotearoa’s disability community online?


According to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), people with disabilities make up 25% of New Zealand’s population, so what are we doing to keep this online community safe?

In December 2021, the Department of Health announced an investment of up to $75.7 million in cybersecurity over three years to increase the resilience of the health and disability system.

This came in response to both the Waikato DHB cyberattack in May 2021 and general recognition of the healthcare industry as a growing target for these types of attacks around the world.

Many may see this as an important step to ensure robust cybersecurity for the healthcare sector in Aotearoa and to prevent future attacks.

But we also need to address what we are currently doing to support people with disabilities in online spaces and what more needs to be done to ensure equitable access.

ODI director Brian Coffey says the organization exists to understand the issues faced by people with disabilities, speak out on these issues within government and advise policy makers across government. He added that the Disability Strategy 2016-2026 and the Disability Action Plan are two key elements of ODI’s work.

“Digital access and digital inclusion are as important, and in many situations more important, for people with disabilities than for people without disabilities. Cybercrime risks must therefore be understood and managed, these risks not constituting a barrier to digital inclusion.”

Coffey notes that there is New Zealand-based data and evidence that examines feelings of online trust and safety among people with disabilities, as well as experiences of cybercrime or bullying, and knowledge of how to feel safe and stay safe when using the internet.

“The 2018 General Social Survey asked about feelings of safety when using the internet for online transactions, and people with disabilities were less likely to say they felt safe: 61% compared to 76% among people without disabilities,” says Coffey.

Additionally, Coffey says the Department of Home Affairs has conducted research on digital inclusion and wellbeing in New Zealand, looking at factors such as internet access and which New Zealanders would be more sensitive to “Internet Breaches”.

Coffey adds that the results show a 3% increase in internet violations for people with disabilities, 6.7%, compared to 3.7% for people without disabilities.

In 2018, Netsafe published research on New Zealand teenagers aged 14-17 and their use and attitude towards technology.

When asked if they thought the internet contained a range of useful content for people their own age, 69% of people with disabilities agreed, compared to 80% of people without disabilities.

Citing this research, Coffey says she also reported that 21% of teens with disabilities knew “not much” about online safety, compared to 11% among their non-disabled peers.

Additionally, 24% of teens with disabilities said they know “a lot” about online safety, compared to 30% among their peers without disabilities.

Netsafe spokesperson Sean Lyons said that with the rapid pace of technological advancement, the design features of a digital environment are critical to ensuring online safety.

He adds that technology isn’t the bad guy and anything it can do to mitigate the damage is incredibly valuable.

“It’s not the technology itself that does the harm. It may be where the harm happens, but we have to be really aware that usually in these situations it’s not an army of harmful bots over there are people who use technology to harm other people,” Lyons says.

“And there is no technological solution for people who want to harm others, we have to see it in a different way.”

Lyons also says there are often feelings of shame associated with being a victim of cybercrime that keep people from coming forward to report it.

He adds that it is important to recognize that it is not the victim but the perpetrator, as they are the ones who put their energy into actively trying to harm someone online in a way that benefits them.

“There is a thread that runs through many [people]where they talk about having had the feeling and intuition, at some point, that something was wrong in a personal interaction, a financial transaction, a request that someone they knew and in whom they had trusted them.

“This thread goes through so many bad situations that we talk about, that I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind people that if they feel that bad feeling about what’s going on, then don’t don’t ignore it.”

Additionally, Lyons notes that the key to a cybercrime situation is dealing with it before it turns into a larger problem.

“It’s the idea of ​​trying to be able to do something early and involve as many other people as possible to get some sort of broad opinion on whether what you’re getting into is likely to harm you or not,” Lyons said. said.

“If it’s a particularly difficult thing to talk about, sensitive, challenging, and you don’t want to talk to anyone, talk to Netsafe. That’s literally what we’re here for.”

But while the ability to gauge what’s trustworthy and what’s not online may be relatively straightforward for some, it’s not for everyone.

Coffey notes that although the New Zealand data is not categorized by type of impairment, international results indicate that people with learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities are at greater risk than those with other disabilities.

“The risk for people with learning difficulties is associated with higher levels of sociability, loneliness, anxiety and depression, poor insight, judgment, discrimination, reduced ability to detect deception in line and reduced life experience and opportunities,” Coffey says.

“However, these restrictions should not impede the self-determination, participation and online development of people with learning disabilities and other disabilities.

“We need to be careful that others don’t guard disabled people’s doors based on that other people’s sense of risk.

“We need to understand the risks and support education on how to manage them, while always maintaining digital inclusion,” Coffey says.

CERT NZ describes itself as “[working] to support businesses, organizations and individuals who are affected (or may be affected) by cybersecurity incidents [by providing] reliable and authoritative information and advice, while bringing together a profile of the threat landscape in New Zealand. »

Although CERT NZ does not collect demographic data on cybercrimes committed specifically against Aotearoa’s disabled community, a spokesperson for the organization said it aims to help all New Zealanders cope to cybersecurity incidents and is aware of the online threats faced by people with disabilities.

“At a grassroots level, the same actions that keep non-disabled New Zealanders safe will work for those who are disabled,” the spokesperson said.

“Maintain strong and unique passwords, using two-factor authentication where possible and protecting your personal information online.

“In particular, updating your software is of great importance if you are someone who relies on third-party software to be able to access the Internet, such as a screen reader.

The spokesperson adds that CERT NZ has started converting some of its content to more accessible formats, such as audio, easy-to-read, Braille, large print and New Zealand Sign Language.

Continuing on this point, Coffey says it is crucial to ensure that the information provided on the prevention of cybercrime by public service agencies and private companies such as banks is made available to people in a variety of ways. accessible.

“[These include] alternative formats like Easy Read and NZ Sign Language, while always making sure it’s plain English,” says Coffey.

“It’s important to remember that people with disabilities make up a quarter of our population and should have access to the same online information and services as everyone else.”


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