Accessible online billing

In this guest blog, looking at the issues behind the ISP Spotlight, web accessibility expert Kevin Prince talks about why it is important that ISPs make online billing accessible to all customers.

So I’ve been asked to make the case for online billing by ISPs, isn’t it a no-brainer? Fortunately all our surveyed ISPs agreed and offer online billing. To me it’s about choice and convenience - I can:

  • check my statement at any time
  • pay from wherever I am
  • print it if I wish
  • view it on my device of choice
  • none of that old-fashioned looking for the chequebook and stamps (unless I want to)
  • it’s good for the trees.

  • Last, but not least, if ISPs couldn’t see the point you’d have to wonder why they are selling online access.

    However, to return to the choice aspect, not all online bills are equal and not all users have as many choices. A well-structured online bill and payments system is good for all of us, but essential if you need to convert your bill to speech, or magnify it to be able to see it.

    Don’t just take my word for it though:

    Online billing is a major accessibility win for blind and low vision people. Paper bills are very difficult to access which means that all too often, sensitive information has to be gained by relying on a third party. Writing a cheque was always similarly problematic from a privacy perspective. Online billing means that we can keep track of our financial affairs and pay our debts independently.

    Neil Jarvis, Executive Director Strategic Relations, Accessibility, Blind Foundation

    Sending a pdf might be online but it’s not necessarily accessible. Sometimes, to quote Eric Morecambe, you can be "…playing all the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order..." This is because the way some bills are created is by a process of grabbing discrete chunks of content and putting them together to form a document. Sadly, a screenreader (which speaks text for blind IT users) will read this in the order in which the text was added rather than the order in which it makes sense. So you’ll get some figures, then a line of advert and later the items that the figures refer to. It might sound a bit like: 1,23,45,69, discount week 10% off all connections, line rental, data, phone, total to pay.

    Plain, properly structured html, with a print option and good clear contrast is going to present the maximum options to all users. If the text isn’t buried in a pdf then you can even run it through a translation programme when Russian is your first language and still get the gist – try that with a paper bill.

    Don’t forget plain language too – whilst your bill shouldn’t be that complex (you want people to pay it right?). If the text is properly online then you can easily reformat it for those who need a different presentation. Want a native Russian version – have a bank of stock phrases and substitute on the page.

    A final benefit of online billing – Deaf New Zealanders can struggle with call centres – but plain language billing and payment means they can complete those transactions more easily.

    Deaf Aotearoa recognises the advantages technology can offer in terms of increasing access for Deaf people, being able to complete transactions online can make things easier for some Deaf people. However, it is vitally important that online billing websites are accessible, and for Deaf people this means plain English and where necessary information presented in NZSL – Deaf people’s first/preferred language.

    Kellye Bensley, Development and Outcomes Team Leader, Deaf AOTEAROA

    So, in conclusion, online billing is a good experience for all sorts of people. And if you’re clever it can be a great experience for those who really need flexibility.


    Accessible online billing is one of the issues that ISPs are rated on in the ISP Spotlight website. See more here: ISP Spotlight