My name is Gisele. I was born with poor eyesight and could never read print normally and can only remember fuzzy images of the people and world around me. Eventually I lost even those perceptions and became blind.
I have experienced all the social changes that have occurred in the past 7 decades of my life. The digital age has been the most significant life-changing phenomenon of my time, and I believe it is the most promising phenomenon for a better life for the generations to come.
And yet I feel an unease about certain trends that are shaping that future.
The Digital Gap Initiative (DGI) is a project through which I hope to have a voice and a role in influencing in any small way my vision for real social inclusion in this rapid technological transformation of our society.
In 2014 I was engaged in a court action pursuant to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) against supermarket chain Coles over accessibility issues that had prevented me from placing an order on their online shopping website. During the proceedings of this action, I was surprised to discover that the Advisory Notes to the DDA on the accessibility requirements for websites, did not have the same legal force as the standards that require buildings and other premises to have access ramps; disability toilets; disability parking spaces and so on.
I asked one of the young lawyers working on my case, Leah Grolman: Why is it so? Leah explained there are ‘soft laws’ (such as Advisory Notes; guidelines; principles; UN Conventions; etc.), which generally are not legally binding – and ‘hard laws’, which are legally binding.
This conjured up in my mind an image of jars of smooth peanut butter (soft laws) and crunchy peanut butter (hard laws). Lea came to name this ‘Peanuty law’. This ‘Peanuty Law’ divide had an instant and profound effect on me: it was incomprehensible to my sense of reasoning that, in this digital age, access to digital technologies and services did not come under the same protective ‘hard laws’ realm as those laws that had been enacted for access to the physical environment. And I felt something had to be done to change that situation. In other words, to make the laws relating to digital accessibility ‘crunchier’.
So, on a Sunday afternoon, Leah and I brain stormed ideas over the phone, drinking cups of Rooibos tea, while a fierce electrical storm raged over Sydney. And as lightning claps lit Sydney’s sky, the idea of the Digital Gap Initiative was sparked.
First step was to create our website, our little hub. The first post, on 1 March 2015, was a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Star Trek’s Mr Spock. This was a befitting first post, because accessibility is logical. You can read more about the first five years of the DGI journey in the 2019 article titled DGI is 5: What does peanut butter have to do with our story?
Flying solo but not alone
When I founded DGI, I very much wanted to focus on goals, not on running and growing an organisation. Yet I had to keep in mind the benefits of collective action and incorporation, including legal protection; access to grants; and recognition as a stakeholder in community consultations. So, in 2015 DGI became a loose collective of activists, and in 2018 DGI became incorporated as DGI Ltd and registered with the ACNC as a charitable Not-For-Profit (NFP).
However, At its AGM on 4 December 2021, the directors and members of the Digital Gap Initiative Ltd decided to initiate the voluntary deregistration of the organisation due to a lack of capacity to pursue our cause under its incorporated/charity structure.
The directors and members of DGI Ltd mapped a pathway to end the operations of the company with dignity, solvent, having put its financial and other affairs in good order, met all its compliance obligations and used its disposable assets and time to complete purposeful projects that would leave behind an enduring legacy of the company’s contribution to the ongoing DGI story and cause.
This process was finalised in July 2022. I want to pay tribute here to the many people who were part of the DGI journey over the years. I now continue the DGI journey solo – but not alone. The movement working for a more inclusive society in the digital age is growing and is passionate and energetic and we will make a difference. My personal perspective is that we need to think beyond the laws that relate to disability or age discrimination to close the digital gap and promote social inclusion. In that scope, I aim to advocate around Australian Consumer Law and other broad-spectrum reforms.
As a footnote here, I return to the starting point of the DGI journey and my legal action against Coles Online. I want to report that Coles went on to fix its shopping website and has not dropped the ball since. Coles also expanded its accessibility audit across all its digital assets and also implemented innovative in-store initiatives. You can read about one of these initiatives in the article titled It’s a golden ticket – Accessibility!
I was so impressed by Coles’ commitment to accessibility, I nominated Coles for one of the inaugural ‘Access Awards’ conducted in 2019 by the Centre for Accessibility. Coles won the Corporate Website of the Year category that year and also in the second Access Awards in 2021.
Five current issues on my radar
My fundamental motivation is advocating for the different needs of people to be considered when thinking about goods and services in our digital age. I plan to advocate around five current issues:
1. Push for choice in the way people use digital technologies in our society. It is of concern to me that people are increasingly required to use smart phones and apps for everyday tasks.
2. Push for accessible and inclusive Digital Goods and Services to be regulated under Australian Consumer Law (ACL).
3. Push for accessibility training to be included in all ICT courses and to be subject to accreditation.
4. Push for the accessible procurement standard to be adopted across all government and business sectors.
5. Push for human-assisted customer service to remain an option for those who are unable to use technology for everyday tasks.
I also would like to say a special thank you to Adam Racovalis of Mintsource for the time and effort he has volunteered to redesign this website so I may continue with the DGI cause.