Media Access Australia: How did your nomination for the 2014 Human Rights Law Award, part of the Human Rights Awards, come about?
Darren Fittler: It was a surprise to me. One of my pro bono clients at Gilbert + Tobin, Touched by Olivia, whom I’ve worked with for many years on a number of different matters, nominated me which led to me being shortlisted.
I take all my clients’ work very seriously, and to my mind it makes no difference if it is pro bono work or paid work. For any of my clients the relationship should go much deeper than just providing legal services. I will ring them up and see how they’re going, follow them on Twitter, attend their events—basically support them in as many ways as I can. Also, if I don’t have the expertise to do what’s needed, I will coordinate with others in Gilbert + Tobin who do.
The work I do is very much behind the scenes. Even though I am up for a Human Rights Award, there’s nothing that I do that you could point to and say, “That’s a really sexy and topical case that’s in the press right now”. What I do is help organisations do what they do so that they can help the people they serve better.
What are your thoughts on the challenges to media access?
The whole area of media access is an interesting area. In my mind technology has so much to give and can achieve so much in opening up accessibility to everyone—including people with disability. That’s everything from the Internet, to movies, school and university texts, home appliances, smart phone applications and the list goes on. But access takes thought, planning and testing both initially and on an on-going basis and must consider all elements of design, content and functionality. However, without the right thinking, planning and testing, the opportunity is lost and in its place we instead find a barrier. The construction of such barriers to media is seldom malicious or intentional, but the end result is the same.
I note that there’s a case on foot against Coles’ online shopping. This case, while focused on online shopping, has highlighted the importance of access to the Internet for all people (particularly those with vision impairment) which in my view is a great thing. The media and broader community have been given a small glimpse of the unnecessary day-to-day challenges faced by many people with disability—things that they almost certainly take for granted: “Oh, I’ll just pop online and do my shopping.” That’s not necessarily so easy for others.
Coles isn’t on its own in this; there are plenty more sites that need to be made more accessible, or completely accessible, really. When you think about the applications on our mobile devices, and that more smart technology is being built into our home appliances, you realise access to media is such a broad area and there is a lot to be done in facilitating access for everyone.
Do you see the Coles case being an impetus for organisations to focus more on accessibility in 2015?
I think there will be more awareness and discussion at the board and executive levels. One of the things to do is to find success stories and highlight where organisations have gone out of their way to ensure accessibility, have done it well and have themselves succeeded in their business as a consequence of having adopted accessibility.
I’m more a fan of the carrot than of the stick, and I think the Coles case is a bit of a stick. I think companies as well as individuals don’t respond very well to being told what to do. If they can be encouraged to do it, and internally want to do it and can see the benefits of doing it, then you will get a far better and longer lasting outcome.
The supermarket chain Tesco in the UK is a good example of that. They invested £35,000 in a new site that was accessible for people with disability and found that more and more people gravitated toward it. That site is now responsible for something like £13 million a year worth of sales. I’d prefer to have one site accessible to everyone, but it is an example of what accessible sites can achieve.
Also, more organisations are seeking to make their websites accessible to the W3C’s standards, say level AA compliant, but sometimes they forget about the usability: it is very important to get testers with disability as well as those without to test the site and make sure the site is usable. When you combine usability with accessibility you usually have a much more pleasant experience for everyone coming to the site.
You’re also undertaking a fund-raising challenge for Media Access Australia. Can you tell us about that?
Sure, would love to. On Thursday 27 November I will be embarking on a self-imposed or self-inflicted ’40 by 40’ 40th birthday marathon workout challenge. My aim is to raise $40,000 for Media Access Australia to help support its great work in facilitating access to media for all people. It basically involves me choosing 40 different exercises and doing 40 repetitions of each of those. I’m thinking it will take me somewhere between four and five hours to complete this marathon challenge. I’m into fitness and thought this would be a good challenge to mark my 40th birthday and raise some awareness for Media Access Australia. In a way, the work of Media Access Australia is like my own pro bono work—it is seldom sexy but is necessary—just get on with business and help people help others.
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