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.


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.