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