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Chinese government pushing the “social” in ESG for tech

The pandemic has driven Mainland Chinese society to greater digitalization, while exposing the fact that most tech products and services have major gaps when it comes to meeting accessibility standards. But the Chinese government is quickly addressing this problem.

In Technology

Written by : Nicole Peng

Posted on 09/06/2021

Mainland China’s government has been rapidly implementing new ESG (environmental, social and governance) practices. Tech companies are taking the lead and moving rapidly to meet the government’s regulatory requirements to reduce inequalities in the industry. Aside from social factors, such as labor standards and gender equality, the Chinese government is pushing accessibility to ensure tech companies’ products and services are more inclusive, particularly for elderly and disabled people.

Improving service quality for the disabled was added as one of the development guidelines back in the Government’s Twelfth Five Year Plan in 2011. Since December 2020, the pace has picked up in forcing the technology industry to deliver. The telecoms regulator MIIT issued detailed requirements for information service providers, with a strict timeline for 115 national websites and 43 major service apps to comply with accessibility requirements by October 2021 to ensure service levels for those with visual and hearing impairments, people with other disabilities and elderly users.

This powerful movement has a few implications for technology industry players in Mainland China, where experience in tackling issues around their products’ accessibility and inclusiveness might be limited. Firstly, inclusive design of hardware and software should be implemented at an early stage, as changes after commercialization will be expensive and could leave companies exposed to legal risk. Implementation will require product teams to have a deep understanding of disabled users. Xiaomi was the first smartphone company to address the accessibility of its MIUI in 2013 thanks to its direct communication with disabled members of its Mi Fan user community. Until recently, most Chinese versions of Android UIs were not open to third-party developers to include descriptions of the various elements’ purposes for a better voice-over experience for visually impaired users. Xiaomi’s latest MIUI updates in China include the Haptic Reproduction UI, which was co-developed with visually impaired Xiaomi users. MIUI is evolving fast, and Xiaomi is taking the lead among Chinese smartphone companies in accessibility feature innovation.

Secondly, accessible service procedures will be reviewed and monitored constantly by users, given that public awareness is on the rise. It will become common for companies to allow their CSR teams not just into the public relations department, but also to permit them to examine service procedures that interact with users, such as frontline staff training.

Finally, the government and public organizations will be leading the adoption of smart devices that support elderly and disabled people. Technology vendors that offer wearables and IoT devices for easier outdoor navigation and health monitoring will likely benefit from this trend.

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