DGI is 5: What does peanut butter have to do with our story?

The launch of DGI’s new website coincides with DGI’s fifth anniversary. I share here my personal reflections on the highlights of our past five years.

The Spark

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.

Peanuty Law

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.

In May 2015, DGI held its launch event: a presentation to IT specialists sponsored by AccessHQ for Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD)’ at the Sydney Hilton.

We didn’t bank on this….

From 2015 to 2019, DGI’s activities gravitated towards accessible banking issues. This was not due to any strategic planning on our part: accessible banking simply emerged as a dominant issue.

Our first action on this issue was prompted by a phone call DGI received in August 2015, alerting us that a blind woman in Victoria had been confronted by the challenge of entering her PIN on a touch screen payment device with no keypad or audio cues.

And so it was that in September 2015, DGI broke the news about CommBank’s inaccessible touch screen POS device, ‘Albert’, in its first feature editorial on its website.

Our message was that the example of ‘Albert’ highlighted the need for national, compliance-based standards on digital accessibility.

This was a message we also took to Canberra, when DGI held an event at Australian Parliament House in November 2015 for World Usability Day (WUD).

In December 2016 DGI launched a change.org petition Blind double-amputee cricketer bats for touchscreen EFTPOS devices to have tactile keypads’, featuring advocate Martin Stewart.

And in January 2017 DGI formulated its ‘position paper’ on touch screen payment systems.

In April 2017 DGI wasted no time in requesting a meeting with newly appointed CEO of the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA), Anna Bligh, raising our concerns that the ABA had not updated its 2002 Standards on Accessible Banking in 15 years, despite the changes that had evolved in banking technologies. 

Based on DGI’s representations and those of other advocacy groups, Anna Bligh convened a round table on accessible banking, in which DGI participated. This review culminated in the banking industry adopting the ‘Every Customer Counts: Accessibility Principles for Banking Services ‘ in 2018.

DGI also made submissions to the Australian Payment Council’s  ‘future strategic focus areas for the payments industry’, and the Australian Payment Network’s (AusPayNet) ‘community consultations on entering PINs using touchscreen technology when making purchases in the retail environment’.

In December 2018 DGI was invited to speak at the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) International Day of People with Disability (IDwPD) event in Sydney. And in January 2019 DGI had an opportunity to meet with Michele Bullock, the RBA’s Assistant Governor (Financial System) and Deputy Chair of the Payments System Board. The meeting explored the systemic measures that may be actionable to enhance the accessibility of digital payment system products and services. This led to the RBA’s Payment System Board adopting a resolution noting that all Australians should have access to convenient electronic payment methods and that this was important to the efficiency of the payments system.

All these consultations and submissions contributed to the adoption of significant policy reforms on accessibility by the banking industry. However, DGI remains convinced that accessibility in the banking industry and all other sectors of society must be incorporated in our legislative framework and standards to affect real change. This stance has been voiced by other advocates. However, our voices have not been heeded yet: so, we must continue our efforts.

Although banking accessibility has taken up much of our time, DGI has endeavoured to take actions around its other focus areas.

Our Other Focus Areas

In 2016, DGI connected with Standards Australia and wrote a submission in support of Australia adopting the ‘Accessibility requirements suitable for public procurement of ICT products and services Standards –with the asteroid-sounding number ‘AS EN 301 549.’

IN 2018, DGI participated in the Australian Human Rights commission’s ‘Human Rights and Technology’ consultations and contributed a submission.

Since 2015, DGI has participated in all annual A11y Camp events, and also in events hosted by OZeWAI and by the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance (ADIA).

DGI has held talks with the Australian Industry Group and other business groups and continues to seek opportunities to discuss the business case for accessibility with the corporate sector.

In 2017, DGI collaborated with the Australian Human Rights centre at UNSW and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) to host indomitable U.S. disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold, who spoke at events promoting her book and dispute resolution method Lainey calls Structured Negotiations’. 

Lainey returned to Australia in 2018 to speak at a A11y Camp, and DGI members had the opportunity to meet with our dear friend again.

Our most recent event was participating in a panel discussion at CANVA, exploring the exciting prospect of developing accessible visual design tools.

Staying the Course

Our journey has not always been an easy one. DGI is run entirely by a small collective of volunteers and has no government funding or other income source. DGI has no office and has no staff. We are driven by our belief in our cause. Donations from our supporters assist us to meet our inevitable expenses. In 2015 we had ventured to create an income stream by creating a fee-for-service enterprise aimed at recruiting user testers for accessibility testing, but we did not have the capacity to run this business: we admit it: Intopia Connect does it better!

There are times when challenges or doubts come to test our resolve. Let’s face it: pushing for standards and laws is no easy sell. And yet, time and time and time again, we are brought back to the reality that laws and standards are fundamental in a civil society, and this norm has not changed because society has moved into the digital era. A staggering fact is that there are over 7,000 standards listed by Standards Australia, but only about half-a-dozen of these relate to accessibility – That’s a ratio of 1 in 1000.

But we are not alone in raising these concerns.

The quest for an inclusive digital era is a rising global movement. In the past five years, we have networked with around 1,000 like-minded individuals and organisations here in Australia and around the globe: we have connected with people in New Zealand, the U.S and Canada, the UK, Ireland and Europe and Côte d’Ivoire in Africa.

2020 in Our Sight

In 2020 DGI’s projects will include:

  • Submitting a proposal to Standards Australia on ISO/IEC Guide 71:2014 (Accessibility in Standards);
  • Holding discussions with the ACCC and other agencies on integrating accessibility requirements under Australian Consumer Law (ACL);
  • Holding discussions with the project to teach coding in schools to promote the training of accessible coding;
  • Promoting accessible design training and accreditation in all IT and digital design courses;
  • Holding discussions with the National Disability Agency (NDIA) and the Productivity Commission to extend opportunities for innovative ‘accessible by design’ consumables to be included into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) marketplace;
  • Calling for the United Nations (UN) to declare an International Decade of Digital Inclusion

And much more.

Full circle

I started this post by mentioning the legal action I took against Coles in 2014, which spurred me on to found DGI. I want to report that Coles fixed its shopping website and has not dropped the ball since. Coles also expanded its accessibility audit across all its digital assets. I have been so impressed by Coles’ commitment to accessibility, I nominated Coles for one of the inaugural ‘Access Awards’ conducted this year by the Centre for Accessibility, a project DGI is also sponsoring. Coles made the list of finalists

DGI’s story is intertwined with my Coles case, and I feel an indescribable sense of hope when I reflect that Coles is being acknowledged for their accessibility commitment, in the same week that DGI marks its 5th birthday.

In 2018 DGI became incorporated and is now registered with the ACNC as a charitable Not-For-Profit (NFP). We thank the legal firm KWM, who assisted us through all the paperwork for this registration.

I also want to pay tribute to the many people who walked with us in our journey over the past five years, be it part of the way or all the way.

And of course, our heartfelt gratitude to AccessibilityOz for creating our new website pro bono.

The website is still a work in progress, as we endeavour to fill its pages with informative and interesting content. Our special thanks also to the many volunteers who helped with user testing the website. Please let us know if you experience any accessibility issues. 

On 17 December 2019, DGI will hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM) and we will welcome new team members.

So, with a new website and new volunteers , we face 2020 with renewed energy, confidence and resolve.