Digital Gap Initiative, the AHR and Public Interest Advocacy Centres invite you to a very special seminar…

You’ll remember from our 2016 Wrap-Up that we were eagerly spruiking Friend of DGI, Lainey Feingold’s then new book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, which at the time had been recently published by the American Bar Association (ABA).

We can finally reveal just why it was that our little organisation was promoting this book by the renowned U.S. disability civil rights lawyer so enthusiastically.

Through the usual rigour of our forensic research in the area of digital inaccessibility – DGI after all being the CSI of digital access crimes – we had initially learned that disability rights advocates in the US had, like us, been similarly pushing to make the digital world accessible to everyone.  Their work, however, had led to more immediate outcomes than had occurred to date in Australia, including many more talking ATMs, accessible websites and mobile apps, talking prescription labels, accessible pedestrian signals, audio description and accessible health care and financial information.  What we learned again and again through the above advancements is how many had significantly benefited from an approach pioneered and developed by Lainey through her twenty plus years’ experience representing blind people and their organisations across the US.  This approach came to be known as Structured Negotiation.

When looking for a high-profile personality to open our inaugural World Usability Day event at Parliament House, Canberra in November, 2015, we reached out to Lainey, firstly advising her of our own efforts to make the digital world accessible “Down Under”, and then our request.  She rewarded us with the boundless generosity we would later come to know her by when she agreed, and kindly prepared a special video message to all those who gathered with us to celebrate the occasion.

Our networking with other disability rights advocates in the US continued in 2016, including with Blind Film Critic, Tommy Edison (after being kindly connected to him by local Friend of DGI, Rick Randall) and esteemed accessibility guru, Jim Thatcher, kept forcing us back into Lainey’s orbit, with both regularly referring to her in conversation and how highly regarded she was in our space.  Lainey herself then reconnected with us to alert us to her book’s release in September that year.  Then when Jim’s website went down and we were unable to raise a response from him, concerned, we reached out to Lainey who advised us that Jim had become unwell and connected us up with his wife, Diana Seidel.  Before we knew it, we had offered to step up to the plate and host his invaluable website as a historical archive [here].

Regular contact with Lainey continued into the New Year when she advised us of her intention to take a break from the exhaustion of “Trump’s America” and visit some friends in Sydney.  Seeing this as way too good an opportunity to pass up (we’re like that;), we floated the idea of returning the favour she had so kindly done for us at our Parliament House event by offering to coordinate our efforts to host a seminar promoting her book, and where she could also share her learned strategies and open discussion with disability rights lawyers how these might be similarly applied here in Australia.  Without very much coaxing at all, we were able to easily convince Lainey to agree, and the rest as they say is history.

And so it is with great esteem that the Digital Gap Initiative, along with the Australian Human Rights Centre (AHRC) and Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), invites you to:

Structured Negotiation and the quest for equal access in the digital age: lessons from the US disability rights movement

with US disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold

Portrait photograph of Lainey Feingold

Date: Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Time: 5.30pm – 7pm

Venue: Ashurst Australia, Level 11, 5 Martin Place, Sydney

 

Order of events:

5.30pm              Light refreshments

6pm – 7pm       Seminar and Q&A

At the seminar, Lainey will discuss her 20+ years of collaboration to advance disability civil rights and how strategies used in the United States might be applied here in Australia. She will also bring the audience up-to-date on what is happening with U.S. digital accessibility court cases, laws, and regulations. Websites are global, tech companies are global and digital advocacy is global too.

RSVP*

*For screen reader users, we recommend using the Firefox browser to RSVP on the Eventbrite website – or please email diane.macdonald@unsw.edu.au to register your interest.

 

Lainey’s book, Structured Negotiation, A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits, tells the story of the dispute resolution process she pioneered that avoids lawsuits in favour of win-win solutions to complex legal issues. Lainey and her clients have used Structured Negotiation with some of the largest organisations in the United States to protect and advance the rights of blind people to access digital information and other technologies. The book can be purchased on the night (limited copies available). For readers with print disabilities, Structured Negotiation is available in epub format through the ABA, or with enhanced typesetting enabled in the ebook version from Amazon or on Bookshare.

DGI 2016 Wrap-up and what’s ahead for 2017

Following our very successful event at Parliament House, Canberra in November 2015, we were struck by the unfortunate loss of a number of our team members in quick succession due to health, family and work commitments.  So from a team of 7 in 2015 we dwindled to just 2 by mid-2016.  But what we lacked in numbers, we made up for with our passion, and you’ll note from this report that DGI has been particularly busy in the second-half of 2016, and is ready to continue our mission of daleking across the digital universe in 2017.

21 July

Peanut Butter and Eggs recipe for Accessibility

Yes, you read that right.  DGI was once again invited to present at the A11y Camp in Melbourne on 21 July.  Here we had an opportunity to focus on the fact that Australia now has a National Standard on Egg Labelling, but not on Accessibility which led to us proposing an equivalent approach with this being applied to digital products and services under Australian Consumer Law.

So the idea has now been hatched that accessibility needs to come out of its shell, and we will get cracking on this in 2017.  As for the peanut butter?  Well we started spreading that idea in Canberra and you can read more about it at Media Access Australia.

22 August

DGI present on Accessible ICT Procurement to both the Tasmanian State Service’s ICT Managers Group and Agency ICT Reference Group.  The discussion initially highlighted how government has previously been criticised for its poor record in employing people experiencing disability (Dunlevy 2011; ADDE 2012), and that the Australian Public Service (APSC) Commissioner’s Statistical Bulletin shows employment of people experiencing disability in the Australian Public Service dropping from a high of 5.5 per cent in 1996, to 3.1 per cent in 2010 (APSC 2010).  It was noted that focus group research carried out as part of this research was designed to capture information about the experiences of people with disability when seeking employment and when in employment, and that while the focus was not exclusively on those who had worked for the Australian Public Service, the accounts of focus group participants were illuminating for the frustration that many had experienced.  Participant experiences were quoted, including: “good people leave the public service because they are demoralised – not getting support for equipment, there is inaccessible software and promises to change work practices which do not occur.”  Other narratives shared noted consistency with this theme, such as one person being dismayed to discover that there was a departmental policy disallowing access to Skype that she used on a regular basis, and another focus group participant complaining that IT support staff were not conversant with the technicalities of their assistive technology software (an issue commonly reported to DGI).  Specific mention was made of delays in the installation of screen reading software because there were issues that were related to the software’s need to traverse the department’s firewall, these latter examples suggesting that there has been some breakdown in ICT systems management.  Under the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), which is the information technology management regime in place within agencies, all software (including assistive technology) is required to be tested with other departmental systems for compatibility as a matter of course, but it was noted that the isolated and one-off nature of Reasonable Adjustments has not led to the kind of expertise development required to adequately manage assistive technologies for staff with disability.

DGI further referred in its presentation to how the primary gateway to employment in the public service is online advertising of vacant positions or recruitment drives; application forms for jobs; documentation relevant to job description, etc., and noted that any digital accessibility challenges in this area will deter a person with a disability from applying for a job, or unfairly disadvantage them in the selection process.  Presented as an example was the Mercury Group, a company whose online e-recruitment system, used by a range of federal, state and local government departments including the Australian Government’s Transport Safety Bureau, the Tasmanian Government’s Department of Education and Health & Human Services, ACT Government Health, NSW Health, City of Melbourne, City of Sydney and even Vision Australia, was noted as not conforming to WCAG 2.0, in addition to their main e-Recruit website (e.g. with six links called “more” on its home page that don’t describe the separate pages they link to, the “Contact us” form with a CAPTCHA prompt, etc.).

We highlighted that the consequence of this was that any screen reader user is prevented from applying for any position advertised through the above departments, a sorry state of affairs that not because the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities in employment, including “through the recruitment process, such as advertising, interviewing, and other selection”, but that not developing Accessible ICT Procurement Policies that require Accessibility to be included as a core criteria in all ICT Call for Tenders would continue to prevent government reaching its targets for employing people with disability and that levels of staff with disability in the state service would continue to fall until this was prioritised.

Unfortunately, the following notification did not occur until later on in the afternoon of the day’s presentation.  But the fact that the announcement was made meant that Accessibility finally becoming a criteria for public procurement of ICT products and services would mean that it would help to make this important issue a bigger priority for government.

22 August-9 September

We received numerous notifications that the Australian Government was charging Standards Australia to create an Australian Standard on ICT accessibility through the direct text adoption of the European Standard EN 301 549 in an effort to provide better access to ICT for people with disability and provide domestic ICT procurers with accessibility guidelines and certainty.

It was noted that before the standard could be adopted, a public consultation would occur shortly beforehand.

Recalling the Australian Public Service acknowledged in its APS Disability Employment Strategy that there has been a significant decline in the number of people with disability employed in the government sector on an ongoing basis (a drop of 4.9% since 2009-2010 with similar reports from state governments), despite general improvements in physical access in the community (which should have seen a marked increase), our ears pricked up at the opportunity to contribute a submission to this public consultation since we are personally and anecdotally aware of the impact of procurement of inaccessible ICT, particularly with regard to employment.

3 September-7 December

Since August 2015, King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) have been providing us with pro bono assistance in the drafting our Constitution, and will also be preparing our application for registration as a company limited by guarantee, not-for-profit with charitable purposes so we are able to be registered with the ACNC in 2017.  KWM has been exceptionally helpful and has answered our many pesky questions patiently and with clarity.  We are very grateful to the KWM team for this support and to Justice Connect for linking us up with them in the first place.

5 September

We connected up with the awesome Rick Randall, ex-Artistic Director of the Other Film Festival (OFF) and current Events Manager at the ACTU, to discuss our campaign approach moving forward.  Rick’s usual common-sense approach reminded us that we had the perfect issue already what with all the leg work we had been doing for our community since September 2015 with regard to highlighting the inherent accessibility issues of CBA’s Albert, so we must thank him for helping conceive the idea that led us to our first Change.org petition.

Rick went on to ‘shell’ shock us by offering to introduce us to Blind Film Critic, Tommy Edison, and within 4 days had us Skyping with Tommy about touchscreen POS devices like the Albert.  Tommy had an eventful remainder of the year so we deferred our connecting up again to 2017 when we could discuss plans at more length for how he might help our campaign get more traction.

18 September-24 October

In September we received exciting news from Lainey Feingold that her book, Structured Negotiation: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuitshad just been released in the U.S.  Our friend Lainey is like the finest chocolate egg ever when it comes to good eggs in the accessibility world, so we were breaking out the eggnogs as soon as we were notified, scrambling to be the first Australians to get a copy of her book.

Now Lainey’s book was advertised as being available on Bookshare, but neither of us were members, plus there is that issue with the US not signing the Marrakesh Treaty which continues to limit access to digital publications from the U.S.  So Lainey kindly applied her renowned negotiation skills to organise her publishers, the American Bar Association (ABA) to email us a copy in EPUB and MOBI format, both of which are regarded as accessible.  But DGI, being as well-informed on these issues as we can be, know that while such formats might be marked up accessibly it is quite another story when it comes to accessible digital readers for these formats.  So emails were bouncing back and forth between DGI, Lainey, the ABA and the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), such that we considered for a moment asking Lainey to arrange one of her Structured Negotiations to sort out the mess.  But Amy Mason, Access Technology Specialist with the National Federation of the Blind prevented a major international incident by pointing us to a very accessible EPUB reader called QRead.  Winds became calm again.  Unfortunately, we then had too much on our plate with the preparation of our submission to Standards Australia and the upcoming ITU Academy course, revived Albert campaign and so on.  But a review of Lainey’s book is definitely on our 2017 agenda… and a call for an international standard on digital documents and e-readers (and for more countries to adopt the Marrakesh Treaty).

26 September-14 November

Double Standards on ICT Procurement

In our efforts to determine the process for contributing our planned submission to the public consultation on the Australian Government’s direct text adoption of the European Standard EN 301 549, we were referred to SAI Global’s Info Store to access the relevant standards documents as background preparation.  To our astonishment we not only found WCAG 2.0 Level AA failures, but that the relevant international standards documents were noted as only being available in PDF, despite the Australian Government’s own study into the Accessibility of the Portable Document Format for people with a disability, in which the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) notes “that organisations who distribute content only in PDF format, and who do not also make this content available in another format such as RTF, HTML, or plain text, are liable for complaints under the DDA”.  The Australian Government’s policy position supports the AHRC’s, acknowledging the inaccessibility of this format for a range of users and requires that all government agencies and funded organisations are NOT TO RELY upon PDF as a format without also providing an Alternative Format.  So this obviously presented a major challenge for us in preparing a well-informed response for the public consultation.  Personally we feel that we didn’t do too bad a job, but you can judge our efforts yourself by downloading and reviewing AS EN 301549 Public Comment by Digital Gap Initiative_14Nov2016.

6 October

We had a conference call with Wayne Hawkins and Teresa Corbin (CEO) from ACCAN, during which we talked heartily about issues of common interest, primarily Accessible ICT Procurement, but also those infernal CAPTCHAs.

Of course ACCAN had led a campaign to kill CAPTCHAs, but to paraphrase President George W. Bush, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to befuddle our people, and neither do we.”  While we’re on the subject of American Presidents, we must reinforce that we promise to campaign for our own Prime Minister Elect, Malcolm Turnbull, to build a Great Wall to prevent the influx of inaccessible digital products to our shores, and we’ll make the inaccessible product designers pay for that wall.  Mark our words, we will ‘Trump’ them.  After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs;)

13 October-19 November

Positive Dialog and DGI’s Award for Egg-cellence goes to…

We liaised with DGI’s old friend at AccessHQ, Greg Barnett, to help highlight and address CAPTCHA and general website accessibility issues for parent company, Dialog Pty Ltd.  Greg was his usual receptive self, and we just wish we could remedy all accessibility issues out there as quickly and positively.

So DGI’s Award for Egg-cellence! for 2016 goes to Greg Barnett, who’s really a ‘Good Egg’.  We are just sorry we didn’t think of the ‘Bad Egg’ category for this year’s award, as we certainly had our share of contenders in that area;)  Perhaps we’ll have to open a call-out for nominations in 2017.  What do Friends of DGI think?  But no suggestions re: prizes, we’ve already worked it out; a rotten egg delivery on All Hallow’s Eve;)

7 November-16 December

First Aussies to undertake specialised training with the United Nations’ agency for ICT

Thanks to support from University of Wollongong e-governance lecturer, William Tibben, and ICT policy advisory and researcher, Gunela Astbrink, Digital Gap members, Gisele and James, had the esteemed privilege of being the first Australians invited by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) Academy, the United Nations’ specialised agency for ICT, to participate in their “Public procurement of accessible ICT products and services” online course from the 7th of November to the 16th of December.

The course, promoted as providing learners with the knowledge, understanding and skills required to: a) specify accessibility for persons with disabilities in the public procurement of information and communication technology (ICT) products and services, b) address accessibility during all stages of the public procurement process, and c) provide a solid understanding of the EN 301 549 seemed far too good an offering for us to pass up, what with the adoption of this standard into the Australian environment and the capacity it would provide us with to interpret the standards so we could “talk the talk” when liaising with ICT Procurement Officers in government as part of our efforts to reduce digital accessibility barriers in the public service arena.  So we gladly accepted, not knowing entirely what we were letting ourselves in for, as the course thoroughly consumed us.  However, it has been extremely valuable as our tutor & course coordinator, Donal Rice, provided comprehensive training resources informed no doubt by his experience lecturing in law and policy related to universal design at the National University of Ireland in Galway and through his Ph.D research and frequent contribution to reports and events by the UN, UNESCO and the ITU.

As part of our assessment we were required to take the role of a procurement officer by writing a Call for Tender for ICT, applying a range of accessibility criteria from the above standard, and after both achieving Grade Point Averages above 95%, now feel much more confident to liaise with government procurement officers to ensure they are applying these criteria sufficiently to their own ICT tenders. The course has further provided us with a general grounding in the development and application of standards to more effectively support our own goal of campaigning for national standards on digital accessibility.

9 November

Leeping to digital inclusion

Attended Leep‘s AGM in Penrith, Sydney where Tracey Howe, CEO for NCOSS keynote presented on “Building Bridges: the Human Interface of including everyone in the Digital Age”.

Leep is a non-government organisation dedicated to achieving equality of access to, and use of, digital technologies for the most vulnerable members of our community – those at greatest risk of social exclusion for whom digital technology can offer truly life-changing benefits.

This was a very impressive meeting and provided us with a great networking opportunity.

10 November

World Usability Day and eggs-actly what are the chances of a double-yoker?

Attended World Usability Day event hosted by the Sydney Web Accessibility and Inclusive Design Meetup at Sydney University.  The theme for 2016 was “Sustainable User Experience (UX)”.

Stuart Freer, General Manager, Digital IT, Big Data and User Experience at Coles Online gave a crackling speech about why Accessibility is the bacon of good business, winning him and his team of Good Eggs at Coles shared our Award for Egg-cellence! for 2016 with Greg Barnett.  But this double-yoker is a once only. From now on we won’t be so soft, and plan to get more hard-boiled about labelling our awards, in conformance with the new National Standard on Egg-cessibility.

16 November

ICT Procurement & Contracting

We made a connection with Procurement and Supply Australia (PASA) about presenting at their ICT Procurement & Contracting conference in 2017, which is extremely timely given our being the first Australian’s to undertake the ITU Academy’s course on the European Standard EN 301 549 and the Australia Government’s subsequent direct text adoption of it this year.

August-December

Albert Strikes Again

We ramped up our continued campaign against inaccessible EFTPOS touchscreen devices by publishing our third feature article reviewing Albert’s Accessibility Mode in the retail environment, the state of play of touchscreen point-of-sale devices in the U.S., the next wave of lawsuits under the DDA in Australia, and the risk of other Apps available on the device given the omission of Accessibility from its Pi Developer Terms and Conditions Agreement.

It is worth noting here that DGI has been attempting to network with other community groups around the Albert issue since September 2015, but this has been glacial.  However, after DGI co-initiated a petition with Martin Stewart on change.org which was launched on 4 December, the tide turned and we started to receive responses and have now held talks with Blind Citizens Australia and Vision 2020, and this month will also meet with Ron Hooton, CEO of Vision Australia, to discuss common objectives.  It certainly won’t stop there though, as we all know that the touchscreen PIN Entry issue impacts not just our own blind and vision impaired community also those with acquired brain injury (700,000+ Australians) and other cognitive disabilities (668,100 Australians), manual dexterity difficulties (685,000 Australians), in addition to posing challenges for a significant number of the 53% of those older Australians who report having a disability.  We have a long list of individuals and organisations to approach.  It is the nature of things that campaigns such as this can take significant time to take hold and achieve intended outcomes, as it took 3 years for young Connor McLeod to win his campaign for the dot on the $5 and other bank notes.

21 November

Web Accessibility Request to Friends of DGI

We began searching for an alternative web hosting service for www.digitalgap.org due to ongoing accessibility issues with our current one.  Yes, even in the basic area of getting your website hosted, if a user of assistive technology such as a screen reader, you will more than likely remain unable to take full advantage of your hoster’s service, encountering accessibility barriers when attempting to request quotes, register with your new hosting service, and once your website is newly hosted, being able to open basic support tickets if hosting issues arise that result in your website dropping out, etc.

The primary barriers here are not only the usual issue of their public websites not being compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, a requirement if businesses with websites are wanting to avoid complaints of disability discrimination under the Australian Human Rights Commission (meaning if you are a screen reader user and wanting to run your own website you cannot access basic levels of information about which service offers the most suitable, affordable, deal for hosting your website), but the even bigger barrier of CAPTCHA which prevents you making general online enquiries, quote requests and once signed up, being able to open basic support requests so you can effectively maintain your website.  Then there is the issue of most backend platforms provided by web hosting services which are meant to provide website owners with control over web-based interfaces for accessing their email, and enabling configuration of their account options, but are also generally not compliant with WCAG 2.0.

Hence, because of the above outlined issues, we have yet been able to identify an accessible web hosting service, so if anyone out there knows of one whose full suite of customer features are accessible for a screen reader user, please contact us urgently as our current hosting arrangement expires toward the end of January 2017.

25 November

Invasion of the Daleks

We are now the owners of a 20 year license of the famed Dalek cartoon and obtained a significant discount from Punch Magazine in the UK.

We extend our warm thanks to Andre Gailani, Manager at Punch Ltd. not only for assisting us with the renewal, but extending his generosity by allowing us to continue to use the cartoon image for any non-commercial activities – except our official business logo/branding – as part of the 20 year license (originally this was for web use only).

With the Daleks as our allies for the next 20 years, we feel nothing will stop us in our efforts to exterminate accessibility barriers to the digital universe, given we don’t have that pesky Doctor and his sonic screwdriver (no doubt designed without accessibility in mind) to deal with.

28 November-18 December

DGI is now hosting JimThatcher.com

When DGI became aware that screen reader and esteemed accessibility guru, Jim Thatcher‘s website and email account had been suspended, we contacted mutual friend Lainey Feingold, who connected us with Jim’s partner, Diana Seidel, who advised us of Jim’s retirement due to ongoing health concerns.

Already well known to DGI members and immensely respected for his knowledge of, and contribution to, accessibility principles, we were immediately deeply concerned that Jim’s work should not be lost to the world, so we bravely offered to act as caretakers of the site and its archives.  We were both blown away and humbled when Diana responded that Jim had accepted our offer.  We feel extremely honoured and privileged to be entrusted to take on this duty, and are also delighted that Jim has put his consultancy work in the hands of Knowbility who the site redirects to for those wishing for further guidance and support in making their websites accessible.  Much to our great relief, due to our abovementioned accessibility issues with web hosting services, Knowbility has magnanimously agreed to administer any issues that require addressing via the backend platform.

29 November

DGI supported blind advocate, Lauren Henley, by attending her hearing in the Federal Circuit Court against the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)  for their dismissal of her complaint against the Commonwealth Government for its failure to take all reasonable steps towards providing audio description in Australia which she claimed was a breach of her human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).  The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) appeared for Lauren in the Federal Circuit Court to argue that this was the wrong decision under the law, and that the Commission should have inquired into her complaint on its merits.  Lauren requested for the Court to order the Commission to make its decision again, in other words, to conciliate the matter and make a decision in accordance with its legal powers.  Lauren’s hope is that the case will encourage the Commission to give more careful attention to its inquiries when people complain about a breach of their human rights under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   Aside from DGI, members of Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) also attended in support of Lauren. The court’s decision is expected to be handed down in early 2017.

14 December

Attended City of Sydney’s Disability Action Plan workshop and particularly raised issues relevant to DGI’s advocacy work, including the need for:

  • beacons in the city to assist with orientation using GPS-type apps;
  • accessible information, such as text-based map information, accessible documents, etc.;
  • Council to adopt the EN 301 549 Accessible ICT procurement standard to reduce barriers to access for employment within local government, and more accessible customer services, etc., making particular mention of not purchasing Albert and similar touchscreen payment devices for customer service  counters.

15 December

DGI had an opportunity to conduct very constructive talks with Standards Australia to discuss such issues as:

  • the abovementioned accessibility of standards documents and  websites, particularly as relates to Standards Australia’s publishing partner, SAI Global;
  • the related issue of accessible public consultation processes;
  • DGI’s ideas around the creation or adoption of new international standards;
  • including accessibility in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Commonwealth of Australia and Standards Australia, to more directly acknowledge accessibility as one of the listed community benefits which flow from standardisation, and which should be included in the decisions to create, revise or adopt standards, including those developed internationally; and
  • Standards Australia’s role in proposing new accessibility standards to ISO and other Standards Development Organisations internationally.

DGI sees the connection with Standards Australia as vital to achieving our goals, so the meeting was one of the high points of our year.

Blind double-amputee cricketer bats for touchscreen EFTPOS devices to have tactile keypads

In 2002 Martin Stewart, a then 39-year old blind advocate was on his way to work one ordinary day when he stepped into what he thought was an open carriage doorway of a train that had just pulled in to Richmond Station, in Melbourne, Victoria, and fell into the void between carriages and on to the tracks.  Despite the desperate attempts of an onlooker to flag down the driver, the train took off and dragged him 200 metres along the tracks. The train tore off his lower right leg, his right arm and the top of his left ear, fractured his cheekbone and ribs, and left him with painful friction burns down the front of his body.

That same year, 2002, the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) introduced Industry Standards on Accessibility of Electronic Banking, after blind and other disability advocates around Australia lobbied them to act to remove barriers to their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS) devices, Automated Telephone Banking, and Internet Banking (15 years on, the ABA is in the process of reviewing and updating these standards to ensure the ongoing accessibility of banking in a changing world).

Martin continued his advocacy work after his traumatic accident, and he now has a message for the ABA and the four big banks it represents:

“The new standards must include specs for tactile keypads for PIN (Personal Identification Number) entry to be fitted to all touch screen EFTPOS and ATMs and Self-Service kiosks.”

Although Martin lost his dominant right hand in the accident (causing him to no longer be able to read Braille), he makes the most of his remaining limbs and is an avid blind cricket player and a whiz at using his iPhone.  But new touchscreen EFTPOS devices such as the Commonwealth Bank’s Albert are preventing him from the basic ability of entering his PIN at checkout, something he was able to manage on tactile keypads.

Albert has been available to Australian merchants since March 2015 and the Commonwealth Bank is marketing it to retailers, cinemas, restaurants, event and festival organisers, in addition to other businesses and government services that use EFTPOS terminals.

The Commonwealth Bank retro-fitted an Accessibility Mode option onto its Albert touchscreen EFTPOS tablet, but it is gesture-based and  impractical for many people to use, including those who have low or no vision; limited hand dexterity; cognitive challenges; older people and those not au fait with touchscreen devices.

Kate Begley of Vision Australia states:

Regardless of attempts to familiarise people who are blind or have low vision with tablet gesture-based devices, it must be emphasised that this is neither the preferred, nor the most suitable payment option for the majority of our community.”

Martin explains:

“Even though I am able to use my iPhone in a private setting, it is nerve-wracking to be confronted by a touchscreen payment device in the usually busy and noisy environments in which these machines are found, often with impatient customers queuing behind and making exasperated comments and noises.  A physical button keypad which is permanently attached to the device is not a backward, out-of-touch request at all. This physical keypad will enable accessible, efficient and inclusive access.  In California it’s been law since 2005 that tactile number keypads be attached to all touchscreen POS (Point-of-Sale) devices, so it’s not as if by requesting these in Australia we are asking for anything new. So why should we put up with what blind citizens in other countries have not!  We have the absolute right to financially transact with our independence, privacy and security intact.  If Albert is left to spread without very major changes to its design, it will be the precursor to other such devices in many other environments, such as taxis and teller machines, creating further marginalisation for us.

The Digital Gap Initiative, a group advocating for legislation and standards on digital technology, questions how Albert could have been released by the Commonwealth Bank despite the ABA’s Industry Standards on Accessibility of Electronic Banking, and fully backs Martin’s call for the fitting of tactile keypads to payment systems.

Albert highlights the need for national, compliance-based standards on digital accessibility, but updating the voluntary ABA standards is a step in the right direction.

Martin is part of a group of several consumers who are blind or have other impairments and have lodged complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

Please sign Martin’s change.org petition

Keep pushing for tactile Keypads on Touch Screen POS devices

This is the third article in our series on the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s “Albert” point-of-sale touchscreen payment device.

Albert has been available to Australian merchants since March 2015 and the bank is marketing it to retailers, cinemas, restaurants, festivals and other businesses and government services that use EFTPOS terminals.

The PIN entry function of this device is not functionally accessible for many people who experience blindness or significant vision impairment (357,000 Australians); combined vision and hearing difficulty (3,800,000 Australians), acquired brain injury (700,000+ Australians) and other cognitive disabilities (668,100 Australians), or manual dexterity difficulties (685,000 Australians).  So, approximately 25% of the population. It also poses a challenge for a significant number of the 53% of those older Australians who report having a disability.

DGI has received reports of outlets that have affixed Albert to a pole, no doubt due to concerns the tablet may be stolen or dropped, as replacement of the device incurs a fee to the merchant by the bank of $1,500.  This creates an extra difficulty for people with residual vision, or restricted movement, who often need to manipulate an object to get the best angle to see the screen or use gestures.

Our first feature article titled Commbank’s new EFTPOS “Albert”: Accessibility short-changed was followed by our second feature article on how Councils across Australia are choosing to adopt CommBank’s ‘Albert’ new payment system in spite of their knowledge that the device is not accessible to people experiencing vision, cognitive and manual dexterity disabilities.

So what has happened since the Digital Gap Initiative first broke the news on this inaccessible payment device?

Well, a lot and little.

“Accessibility Mode” Out of Touch with Retail Environment

It appears that the bank has finally acknowledged that it could have done more to incorporate accessibility in its design processes.  On its Accessibility Mode for Albert page, Sarah Abbott, Senior Manager Diversity and Inclusion, Commonwealth Bank, states:

“Commonwealth Bank recognises and endorses the importance of payment accessibility, and we are continually enhancing the features of our payment devices, including improvements to the accessibility function of Albert for blind and vision impaired customers.

“We continue to build a strong culture of awareness, understanding and participation for people with a disability. This includes looking at improving our future design processes so we can better include accessibility standards for platforms used by our customers and employees.”

While it is positive that the Bank has made this declaration, they need not wait for the future to remedy the accessibility deficit of Albert.

Kate Begley, Policy Advisor at Vision Australia, in their Submission to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee Inquiry into the regulation of ride sourcing services (dated 5 August 2016) (page 7), further states:

“Another area of technological development is in the use of touch-screen tablet devices, with gesture based input, for the purpose of processing financial transactions. The Commonwealth Bank’s Albert Payment terminals are one such example.  There is a growing trend towards the use of touchscreen-based payment terminals that are completely inaccessible for the majority of people who are blind or have low vision.

Regardless of attempts to familiarise people who are blind or have low vision with tablet gesture based devices, it must be emphasised that this is neither the preferred, nor the most suitable payment option for the majority of our community.”

This demonstrates that the steps the bank has taken in the direction of retrofitting accessibility in Albert have not measured up to the needs of the many people who are simply not able to enter their PIN number independently at outlets where the payment device is currently in use.

Basically, the bank expects we will all have to use gestures, instead of using the familiar tactile keypad with a dot on the number 5 that has provided a practical means for almost everyone to use a point-of-sale device everywhere in the world for decades, thanks to the genius and insight of Bell Labs industrial psychologist, and pioneer in human factors engineering, John E. Karlin.

To fully comprehend the profound thinking that went into the design of telephone-style tactile keypads, we urge our readers to read the obituary of John. E. Karlin, published in the New York Times on February 8, 2013.

It is doubtful that the same depth of research has gone into human factors engineering with touch screens, virtual keyboards and keypads, given the amount of companies now developing tools adapted from the analog world to tackle the significant limits of touch screens.

The natural course of progress means that at times even the best practices have to give way to new ideas.  But a new idea that makes it difficult for people to perform an everyday task that was previously simple is not progress or innovation.

To get an idea of Albert being used in “Accessibility Mode”, it is worth tuning in to the Talking Tech podcast – June 7, 2016 by David Woodbridge, Senior Adaptive Technology Consultant at Vision Australia.  David is demonstrating a tutorial app he downloaded to an Android smart phone. It sounds “easy enough” when David demonstrates the PIN entry steps. But with no disrespect intended to David, the following points need to be made:

  • David is an experienced user and demonstrator of technology (he worked for Apple Australia as an Accessibility Ambassador from 2009-2015 so over 6 years of daily experience with touch screen, gesture technology). The average disabled or aged customer will not likely have his level of expertise and confidence in using new technologies;
  • The demo includes audio feedback of numbers, which will not happen when using Albert in live-mode for PIN entry;
  • David is using the demo in a private, quiet and relaxed setting, not at the check-out queue in a busy and noisy shop, restaurant or mobile food van at a music festival, street carnival or major sporting event;
  • David is likely to have practiced the PIN entry step repeatedly, even before presenting this demo.  The demo is quite long, yet it’s still the “short version” of how much someone would need to practice to enter their PIN correctly in a few seconds. It’s the equivalent of “I cooked this one before the show”, when a chef demonstrates a recipe on a cooking show;
  • Albert is an Android device and the demo tutorial is only for Android devices.  Many blind people are more likely to have iPhones or other IOS devices, if they have a smart phone at all;
  • The audio prompts in the demo tutorial can be heard cautioning the user to take care of swiping straight in the direction of the numbers on the keypad.  Many blind people will find it challenging to trace a line on a smooth surface, as will those who are sighted but may have poor eye-hand coordination; and
  • The demo has a friendly little suggestion at the end that you should practice the PIN entry before attempting to enter it in Albert in a real situation.  But, what are all those people who don’t have an Android device to practice the demo supposed to do?

Further to these points, the “accessibility mode” in Albert needs to be switched on by a sighted person.  Even though the bank added instructions for “accessibility mode” in its Merchant Guide distributed with Albert (in the format of an inaccessibly designed PDF so not even able to be interpreted by a screen reader user) after DGI pointed out its omission in September 2015, many merchants report being unaware this mode is on the device, let alone how to turn it on or guide a customer on how to use it.

So what is DGI’s solution?  It is simple enough: Albert has Bluetooth capacity so it should be possible for an auxiliary tactile keypad to be paired to the device.

Next wave of lawsuits against retailers who use touchscreen POS devices

In California, USA, since 2004 the law has required that any newly purchased touch screen-based credit card terminals or any upgraded units be equipped with tactile number keypads.

The Law Office of Lainey Feingold and Co-Counsel Linda Dardarian have negotiated close to a dozen agreements with national retailers requiring telephone-style keypads at point-of-sale devices so that people who are blind do not have to disclose their PIN when using a PIN-based card.

These have included:

  1. Raley’s Point of Sale Settlement Agreement
  2. Best Buy Tactile POS Settlement Agreement
  3. Trader Joe’s Point of Sale Agreement and Amendment
  4. CVS Accessible Web Site and Point of Sale Settlement Agreement
  5. Target Point of Sale Settlement Agreement
  6. Staples Point of Sale Press Release
  7. Dollar General Settlement Agreement
  8. Rite Aid Tactile POS Agreement
  9. 7-Eleven Point of Sale Agreement
  10. RadioShack POS and Web Agreement
  11. Safeway POS Agreement
  12. Wal-Mart POS Agreement

Note: Lainey Feingold is a disability rights lawyer and an author who works primarily with the blind community on technology, digital, and information access issues.  She is nationally-recognised in the US for negotiating landmark accessibility agreements without lawsuits and for pioneering the collaborative dispute resolution method known as Structured Negotiation.  Lainey’s book about structured negotiation, Structured Negotiation: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits was just published by the American Bar Association (ABA).  Read about Lainey’s book, available for sale on the ABA website in a range of formats.

In America it is therefore predicted the next wave of lawsuits under the ADA (their country’s equivalent to our own Disability Discrimination Act) will undoubtedly be against businesses that use inaccessible touch screen point-of-sale terminals.  A number of complaints have already been lodged here in Australia under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) regarding the inaccessibility of this device.

It would therefore surely be prudent and relatively cost-efficient, and technically feasible without compromising the concept or design of the product, for CommBank to supply all the merchants who have signed up (or will sign up in the future) to use the Albert terminals, with compatible auxiliary Bluetooth tactile keypads (which must be secured to the device by a cable so they are immediately available whenever a customer requires access to it).

Disabled unable to get a fair piece of the App Pi

The PIN entry issue is just one barrier.  Albert has pre-installed Apps, and at the time of writing we were unable to obtain verifiable information if these Apps are accessible.

On the Pi App bank support pages, which feature basic descriptions about each app available for use on Albert, there is no mention of Accessibility.

One of the most talked-about Apps on Albert, however, is the “Split Bill” App.  The description states this App “has been designed to enrich the customer experience between restaurants and their customers. It allows:

  • Fast and simple splitting of the bill with a human touch
  • Each person at the table to pay their share and add tips
  • A summary showing total amount of a bill paid on card, by cash and tip amount”

To read and hear these upbeat promos, and to know that chances are that many people will miss out on that “enriched customer experience”, or to put it in more down-to-Earth lingo, miss out on the ordinariness, or sheer fun, of working out one’s share of a bill, like everyone else sitting around the restaurant table, is dispiriting.

Even for those who manage to get used to entering their PIN in the device, what about access to all these other Apps?  The description of the Accessibility App states that it “Enables customers to practice the secure PIN entry process using Accessibility mode.”  On the “Accessibility Mode” page, again reference only appears to be made to PIN entry “accessibility”.

App developers and merchants have been encouraged to design new Apps for the device, and there is a Software Developer Kit (SDK) but it is only available to registered developers and there is no reference to Accessibility whatsoever in its Pi Developer Terms and Conditions Agreement.

And if CommBank’s stylish YouTube Albert promo includes any mention of the Accessibility Mode, it certainly didn’t rate a mention in the lead presentations.

Sounds like Accessibility is not cool enough, or not profitable enough!  And yet it can be both.

Albert continues to leave a bad taste in the mouth

But it appears that it’s not only accessibility issues plaguing Albert.  As was reported in our second feature article, the Taste of Tasmania was one of the first large-scale events in Australia to use the Commonwealth Bank’s Albert system.  This year the event will again be a cashless event, but Hobart City Council has abandoned the controversial Albert system in favour of a more accessible EFTPOS setup.

Albert processed more than 330,000 transactions for the event, but was plagued by connectivity failures and voided transactions.  So it didn’t just fail in being accessible for all, but also from a universal design perspective.

No doubt CommBank’s competitors are watching all of these matters closely and are being mindful of the need to truly innovate in this competitive arena by not losing sight of the human factor in the design of new technologies.

Although this article has once again focused on the Albert payment terminal, it is only one of the inaccessible touch screen devices used in payment and related processes that DGI has been monitoring.  Touch screen payment devices are also becoming increasingly used in the taxi and ridesharing industry. Touch screen self-service kiosks are also in use in airports, libraries, Centrelink, Medicare and other customer service centres, and are now being installed in major retail centres such as supermarkets.  Touch screen controls are replacing physical buttons in lifts and security systems in many office buildings, hotels and residential apartments.  Then there is the full range of home appliances now overlooking us as consumers.  If legislation and mandatory standards on the accessibility of digital technologies are not applied soon, it will be of little consequence if payment devices are accessible because for many there will be few things usable to buy.

DGI 2015 Wrap-up and what’s ahead for 2016

How DGI was born

Gisele Mesnage founded the Digital Gap Initiative (DGI) on a stormy Sunday in Sydney on 7 December 2014.

Gisele recalls:

“At the time I was in the midst of a legal action pursuant to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) against supermarket giant Coles, over the accessibility of their website. It was at least the 12th DDA complaint I had lodged over web accessibility issues since 2001. My experience in conciliating these cases led me to believe that a more systemic approach – including legislative reforms – was needed to tackle digital accessibility issues in our digital age. So on Sunday 7 December 2014 I was bouncing ideas on this question over the phone with a friend, Leah Grolman. We were both drinking Rooibos tea and chatting between breaks in the wild thunderclaps that raged over Sydney. By the end of the storm, the Digital Gap Initiative had been born and named.”

Connecting

Gisele then connected with people who shared the vision for the goals of DGI.  On 15 April 2015 an inaugural meeting of an informal DGI management committee was held over Skype.  It was decided that DGI would operate as a network.

Launch events in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra

Melbourne – Global Accessibility Awareness Day

On 13 May 2015 the company AccessHQ hosted an event at its Melbourne offices to launch DGI.  Ted McCoskey, who had taken on the role of President of DGI, and Gisele Mesnage, founder of DGI, both spoke at this gathering.

Sydney – Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)

This was followed by a bigger launch event at the Sydney Hilton on 21 May 2015, Global Accessibility Awareness Day. The event was again sponsored by AccessHQ and attended by over 50 government and business representatives.  Ted and Gisele again addressed this gathering.  One of the guests at the event was Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who invited DGI to hold a launch event at Australian Parliament House in Canberra.

Parliament House, Canberra – World Usability Day (WUD)

The Canberra launch took place at Australian Parliament House on 12 November 2015 on World Usability Day (WUD).

The event was co-hosted by Senators Rachel Siewert and Lee Rhiannon (the Greens) and Senator Jo Lindgren (Liberal Party) and Senator Carol Brown (ALP).

The launch event, opened by DGI Founder, Gisele Mesnage (download Opening Speech document here) was attended by 60 people, including parliamentarians and other government representatives, as well as business and community leaders.

The highpoint of the event was Gisele’s opening speech (below), and a panel discussion hosted by Ted McCoskey. Panellists included Greg Barnett (AccessHQ), Roger Sniezek (Coles), Andrew Arch (Digital Transformation Office), Christos Petrou (IBM), Alex Varley (Media Access Australia), Johmar Gazo (NAB), Sarah Pulis (PWC) and James Newton (DGI).  The animated discussion explored the theme of inclusion and innovation.  The event received a special video message from Lainey Feingold of the Lainey Feingold Legal Office in the US.

Acknowledgements

We extend warm thanks to all those who donated to our chuffed.org appeal and made it possible for three DGI members to travel to Canberra to participate in the event.  We also wish to extend special thanks to Coles for paying for the catering at the event, to NAB for a $1,000 donation, and to all panellists and other supporters who assisted us with practical tasks.

Other 2015 Highlights

Our Focus for 2016

  • Accessible online shopping such as Coles
  • Continued campaigning on Touch Screen POS devices such as the “Albert”
  • Advocating for designated accreditation codes to be applied to ICT, web and other digital accessibility skills training under the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA)
  • Accessibility and ICT public procurement
  • Advocating against PDF as a sole format for online downloadable documents
  • Networking
  • Opening up discussion on compliance-based standard on digital accessibility