The Digital Gap
Digital technology is now so integral to our everyday life; it can be compared in scope to the built environment. The plus is that digitalisation offers unprecedented prospects for universal access and real social inclusion, due to being more adaptable than the bricks and mortar of the built environment. Yet the reality is that a social gap, an e-gap, exists between those able to participate in this rapid transformation of our society and those who, through circumstances rather than choice, are being left behind.
The Digital Gap Initiative, or e-gap project, will aim to contribute to efforts in Australia and internationally to promote inclusive digital accessibility. The Initiative’s focus will be centred on advocating for legal, policy and other systemic reforms, with the objective to reduce the barriers that people with disability, older persons, socially disadvantaged or technically-challenged people face in using digital technology – online services, mobile apps, touch screen devices, ATM’s and other automated services, digital TVs and radios, cloud technology and intranet systems in work places and educational establishments, many of which are inaccessible because they have not been designed with accessibility and inclusion in mind.
We will motivate discussion on, and advocate for the adoption of national, compliance-based digital accessibility standards in Australia.
These standards would complement the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 (Cth), administered by the Attorney-General’s Department, which codifies requirements for ramps and other accessible features in the built environment.
At present, enforcement of digital accessibility is via a complaints process to either the Australian Human Rights Commission or an anti-discrimination body at the State or Territory level.
With no uniform minimum standard of digital accessibility guaranteed under Australian law, equality remains a distant promise.
The Initiative will aim to connect with stakeholders and experts across disciplines and sectors, towards exploring and developing these model standards and implementation strategies, which would:
- Go beyond the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and include criteria for qualitative usability, responsiveness and performance of web design and online services;
- Cover the broad spectrum of digital systems and services that have become central to our lives;
- Shift away from piecemeal change through disputes and litigation, instead effecting systemic change;
- Avoid ambiguity about legal requirements;
- Include review mechanisms to reduce lag between technological progress and the law;
- Include training certification and other occupational accreditation standards for those working or teaching in the digital industry to ensure quality of professional services;
- Apply to government and the non-government sectors;
- Set proportionate requirements or exemptions as appropriate for individuals, the community sector, small businesses and so on;
- Address the question of digital security measures where these impact inclusive access;
- Enhance flow-on benefits to the wider community and business; and
- Include other ideas, as generated through the conversation process in working towards this goal.
Recognising that no one pathway can bring about change overnight, the Initiative will also pursue a broader strategy which will include:
- Where feasible, influence public and private sector policies and programs that will generate digital inclusion and minimise the impact of accessibility barriers on educational and employment opportunities, independence and social interactions in Australia;
- Connect with international efforts, including lobbying the United Nations to declare an International Year focusing on closing the digital gap globally.
The Initiative will operate on the basis of building a network of people committed to these ideals, through the website, social media, conversations and consultations, and other collaborations.