The Digital Divide: Panel frames better digital access for people with disabilities

Legislation, Policy and Practice for Digital Inclusion Panelists Rosemary Kayess, Lainey Feingold and Alistair McEwin

The Legislation, Policy and Practice for Digital Inclusion panel discussion, held on Monday 15 October, at UNSW Sydney heard about the digital divide that happens when digital platforms, the digital economy and digital interfaces are not accessible for people with disabilities.

The event, run by Intopia, and supported by the UNSW Disability Innovation Institute, Telstra, UNSW Grand Challenges and the University of Sydney, sought to address the current challenges around digital inclusion.

Rosemary Kayess, Interim Director of the Institute, who was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June, outlined a number of issues with digital accessibility.

“Options for voice recognition, options for alternative security confirmations, and things like touch screens can be really problematic for people with disabilities,” she said.

“How do you make the digital world accessible for deaf people? How do you balance that access?

“This is a big focus of the UN committee, ensuring that people with disability are not discriminated against in terms of access to the digital world and changing technologies.”

An internationally respected lawyer, researcher and academic, Rosemary Kayess is a Visiting Fellow at UNSW Law and Senior Research Fellow at UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre.

She is Chair of the Australian Centre for Disability Law and is one of the driving forces behind UNSW’s Disability Innovation Institute, a groundbreaking initiative to help transform the lives of people with disability by harnessing research and innovation across all faculties and disciplines.

Other panelists included Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, and US disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold.

Ms Feingold works with blind people to improve their access to web and mobile content and works to make technology and other information available to disabled people.

"Technology and accessibility have such a potential for creativity and inclusion", said Ms Feingold.

She developed an alternative dispute resolution process called the Structured Negotiation approach, which helps avoid lawsuits by negotiating comprehensive agreements with some of the largest US organisations. 

Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, recognised this year as the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act and highlighted some of the progress made to date, particularly around the built environment and accessible transport. There is still work to be done, however.

"Unfortunately, we're not seeing a great take up of digital development with people with disabilities in mind", he noted.

Ms Kayess said it was important there was an appropriate and adequate regulatory framework that both ensured that people with disabilities had digital access, but also gave a right of redress if access wasn’t happening.

“People with disabilities aren’t embedded in design frames,” she said.

“That is the Disability Innovation Institute’s remit here at UNSW, to bring people with disability and bring the experience of people with disability into the research space and to develop new innovative technologies, new innovative solutions to things.”

The panel was a side event to this year’s A11y Camp, Australia’s premier conference on accessibility and inclusion, and was a feature of the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Digital Accessibility Awareness Week.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity for us to host Lainey Feingold and have her join us on the panel to be able to look at the US perspective but it’s great that we have been able to align it with the A11y camp that’s happening as well,” Ms Kayess said.


Watch the video of The Legislation, Policy and Practice for Digital Inclusion panel discussion on Youtube (Length: 1:02:49 ).

The youtube website contains captions for this video.

To discuss potential research projects or how you can engage with the Disability Innovation Institute contact Dr Martin Bone, Business Development Manager