UNSW panel frames better digital access for people with disabilities

A panel at UNSW Sydney has discussed some of the challenges faced by people with disabilities when trying to access digital platforms. 

Deaf man with smartphone

Photo: Shutterstock

An increase in digital accessibility for people with disabilities and a right of redress if it is not forthcoming was a key message of an event supported by UNSW’s Disability Innovation Institute and Grand Challenges this week.

The Legislation, Policy and Practice for Digital Inclusion panel discussion in Sydney heard about the digital divide that happens when digital platforms, the digital economy and digital interfaces are not acceptable for people with disabilities.

Prior to the panel discussion, panelist and Interim Director of the UNSW Disability Innovation Institute, Rosemary Kayess, who was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in June, outlined a number of issues with digital accessibility.

“Options for voice recognition, options for alternative security confirmations, and things like touch screens can be really problematic for people with disabilities,” she said.

“How do you make the digital world accessible for deaf people? How do you balance that access?

“This is a big focus of the UN committee, ensuring that people with disability are not discriminated against in terms of access to the digital world and changing technologies.”

An internationally respected lawyer, researcher and academic, Rosemary Kayess is a Visiting Fellow at UNSW Law, and Senior Research Fellow at UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre.

She is Chair of the Australian Centre for Disability Law and is one of the driving forces behind UNSW’s Disability Innovation Institute, a ground breaking initiative to help transform the lives of people with disability by harnessing research and innovation across all faculties and disciplines.

04_rosemary_kayess.jpg

Rosemary Kayess

Other panelists included Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, and US disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold.

Ms Feingold works with blind people to improve their access to web and mobile content and works to make technology and other information available to disabled people.

She developed an alternative dispute resolution process called the Structured Negotiation approach, which helps avoid lawsuits by negotiating comprehensive agreements with some of the largest US organisations.

Ms Kayess said it was important there was an appropriate and adequate regulatory framework that both ensured that people with disabilities had digital access, but also gave a right of redress if access wasn’t happening.

“People with disabilities aren’t embedded in design frames,” she said.

“That is the Disability Innovation Institute’s remit here at UNSW, to bring people with disability and bring the experience of people with disability into the research space and to develop new innovative technologies, new innovative solutions to things.”

The panel was a side event to this year’s A11y Camp, Australia’s premier conference on accessibility and inclusion, and was a feature of the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Digital Accessibility Awareness Week.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity for us to host Lainey Fiengold and have her join us on the panel to be able to look at the US perspective but it’s great that we have been able to align it with the A11y camp that’s happening as well,” Ms Kayess said.