The accessibility and inclusion tipping point

Dylan Alcott, star wheelchair tennis player and basketballer, was a standout success at the Australian Open this year, winning hearts and minds with his brains and backhand.

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Artwork: Secret Garden by Digby Webster, 2018, oil pastel. More info:

Elsewhere, a series of ground-breaking TV programs, including ABC’s Employable Me and You Can’t Ask That, busted stereotypes and confronted the discrimination of people living with a disability. The programs revealed the challenges facing blind people, people with facial differences, those who use wheelchairs and short statured people.

"Whilst member organisations compete with each other on a daily basis, they don’t have to compete on inclusion.” - Colbert

Meanwhile in Canberra, 23-year old Senator Jordon Steele-John ran into problems in his new working life at Parliament House because of the below-par accessibility standards of the building - including accessing the Parliamentary chamber, participating in some of the traditions of Parliament and simply going to the bathroom.

The year 2018 has been one where issues around disability and inclusion have taken centre stage – but on that stage we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. 

“We have gotten to a tipping point,” says Australian Network on Disability (AND) CEO Suzanne Colbert. “Awareness is at an all-time high.” Yet awareness is just the start.

AND’s annual Access & Inclusion Index provides more than 240 member organisations with the ability to check their performance against 10 key indices to identify areas of strength and for improvement, ultimately building greater disability confidence.

“Whilst member organisations compete with each other on a daily basis, they don’t have to compete on inclusion,” says Colbert. “Organisations need to expand their willingness to do things differently in order to accommodate difference.” ANZ ranked third in the 2017-18 Index.

New commitments

On International Day of People with Disability (IDPWD), ANZ Executive Sponsor Accessibility Christine Linden launched the bank’s new plan ‘Our Approach to Accessibility and Financial Inclusion’, bringing together the bank’s new financial inclusion and accessibility commitments.

ANZ Head of Accessibility, Meg Dalling, has led bank-wide consultation around the new accessibility commitments, drawing insights from the bank’s network of Accessibility Champions. “We have made great strides in accessibility at ANZ in recent years,” says Dalling, “but there is significant work to do.” 

More than look and feel

To take one example, Australian banks are under pressure to improve performance around accessibility of touchscreen payment devices. 

In March, Nadia Mattiazzo took the Commonwealth Bank to court alleging discrimination over its 'Albert' EFTPOS machine which is entirely touchscreen and does not have a tactile keypad, forcing Mattiazzo to tell café staff her PIN in order to pay for a coffee.

In an effort to accelerate accessibility progress across a number of areas, Dalling joined representatives from a number of Australian banks to collaborate on the development of new Accessibility Principles for Banking Services, launched by the Australian Banking Association. 

The last time these principles were updated was 2002 when people were using iPods, iMacs and tiny Nokia 6610 phones. The refresh, which covers ATMs, digital and voice channels, payments devices, communications, authentication methods and branch design, was well overdue.

While formal consultation has now closed, Australian banks continue to discuss the accessibility of touchscreen technology, which is becoming ubiquitous and an industry group is working to develop a common approach to accessibility of touchscreen payment devices.

Universal design

The new ABA principles are heavily influenced by the 7 Principles of Universal Design developed by a team at the University of Carolina. The principles are:

  • Equitable in use
  • Flexibility in use
  • Simple and intuitive
  • Perceptible information
  • Tolerance for error
  • Low physical effort
  • Size and space for approach to use

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Source: ANZ Our Approach to Accessibility and Financial Inclusion, 2018

Next steps

Perhaps Australia’s most influential disability activist, company director, lawyer and former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, says the issue “is not that the technology is leaving us behind, it is that design can exclude us”.

Blind since birth, Innes is currently working on legal cases, a portfolio of disability reform consulting projects and other public engagements. By no means anti-technology, he recently demonstrated new wearable Aira (pronounced “eye-ruh”) smart glasses at the Australian Assistive Technology Conference. Aira connects blind or vision-impaired people to a professional agent who becomes their ‘eyes’. Innes was able to walk onstage unassisted, “something I would not normally do,” he says.

Innes shared the keynote with Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Alastair McEwin, who demonstrated Auslan Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) technology for the hearing impaired. “We wanted to make the point that we can have one piece of technology that is so inclusive yet you have EPTPOS machines that are only touchscreen which means I can’t use them and am excluded from ecommerce,” McEwin says.

Services for all

The risk people will be locked out of banking services because of a disability has significant human rights implications. To date, the greatest number of discrimination complaints before the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) relate to disability.  Most of these relate to employment but some are about services, prompting the Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper.

Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow wants to orchestrate a practical roadmap for reform. “We are not jumping to the solution of more regulation,” he says. “The starting point for us is ‘how do you apply the existing rules more effectively?’ and ‘what are the gaps that need to be filled?’”

In recent times, the focus on privacy when discussing rights around technology has shifted. “For the first time, the community has seen how other important human rights are engaged,” says Santow.

The two significant technology issues that have surfaced, according to Santow, are the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making and issues around technology inclusivity for people with a disability.

Santow agrees touchscreens are such an important issue. Asking a blind or vision-impaired person to enter their PIN on a touchscreen in a café is a graphic example of the cause for concern. “Apart from privacy and security concerns, the blind individual often would be prohibited from revealing their PIN to other people in those sorts of circumstances,” he says. “This problem can and should be addressed when designing touchscreen and other devices.”

For Santow, there are market participants that are “inadequately conscious of their human rights obligations” and the Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper aims to change this.

Further progress in inclusion for people with a disability will create positive outcomes and further opportunity for all.

Emily Ross is an author, journalist and editor

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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