Transcript of Dr Manisha Amin's commentary at the Digital Inclusion Forum

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 10:07am

Introduction:

You're listening to a podcast from Media Access Australia. Inclusion through technology.

Anais T - MC:

We have four panellists today to talk about the future developments for digital access. So we've got Dr Manisha Amin, the CEO of Media Access Australia; we've got Mr Brendan Fitzgerald, the manager of digital inclusion at InfoXchange Australia; Deborah Fullwood of outreach at the National Relay Service; and Professor Gerard Goggin, of media and communication at the University of Sydney. Please welcome them.

(Applause)

Dr Manisha Amin:

So I work for an organisation called Media Access Australia and we've been around for over fifteen years. We help to make mainstream media accessible through technology. Now in the old days that was around captioning on television and we’re still involved in the fight to get audio description on television as well, but more recently it’s actually also been about as the real world becomes the digital world we’re looking at how the digital world is accessible because that is in effect mainstream. So one of the key questions we’re asking ourselves at the moment is as the real world becomes the digital world, where are the ramps of the digital world. And if we’d had this conversation when the real world started, would we even have staircases? So how do we actually make sure that we include everyone in the world that we’re building, is, I guess one of the critical questions that we have here at Media Access. Some of the things that we’ve done, we have, the last panel spoke very eloquently about affordability as well as accessibility, and thanks to a grant from ACCAN we have developed the affordable access website which looks at products that are under $200 that can be used for people, and it provides examples of technology that’s affordable, accessible and appropriate because the sort of technology that an older person might want in their house might be quite different to the sort of technology that a person going to school needs. We also have a recruitment guide so that people who are interested in recruiting people with disability have some advice and some information. We also do audits, we help all kinds of organisations, so fundamentally looking not just at websites for all of the things within an organisation that can help you to be more inclusive.

MC:

Are you aware of some current technology advances that are specifically targeted at people with disability and that are aimed at making sure that they are more digitally included.

Manisha:

I think that question about diversity and inclusion in our DNA is a really interesting one, because what happens is we often talk about the technological advancements that are out there and we’ve got a whole list of them on that sheet over there and I can tell you about glasses that can read books for you and all sorts of other stuff. However, I think fundamentally when we talk about inclusion what we’re really saying is, is our society a society that is interested in including the other in a fundamental way, that’s the bottom line. I think that when we then look at, what are the technological advances and what are the opportunities, it’s how do we get that conversation hardwired into the DNA of the people who are producing digital services and the people who are buying those digital services because, although we will talk the talk it’s really hard to walk the walk, and even if you try to, we know so many companies who want to do the right thing and who will build the website and they’ll say to their supplier, you know, “we want to make sure that this website’s inclusive”, and they get a product at the end that really doesn’t even mean the baseline. So it’s also how do we actually do that piece, and my sense is that, yes, that’s a technological, there’s a technological solution in there, but fundamentally it’s a human problem and it’s a human issue that we need to collaborate on and solve together.

MC:

So I understand that you’re, or your organisations have been part of these new developments and you’ve been working on it for a long time now. Would you like to give us a bit of insight about the work you’ve been doing and the particular projects you’ve been working on?

Manisha:

Look I think I’ve spoken about the projects we’ve worked on in the past. Where we’re really going to now is really looking at how people with disability can be involved fundamentally in the production of new technology, so, and new experiences and communication. So rather than actually saying, go to your appointment in a straightforward way, I come from a marketing background and you can go to most organisations and they’ll have target markets and personas out there and you can bet your bottom boots that they all look pretty similar, and people they look like are not necessarily the people in this room. We’re all really diverse and with technology moving the way it has it means that the customer experience can actually be tailored a lot more. What that means is actually if we look at people who are normally left behind we can create far more interesting innovative solutions to the issues that we have today. So what we’re saying is, rather than saying we’ll have a, you know, we’ll do everything over there and then we’ll look at disability at the end or we’ll look at exclusion at the end or look at digital on its own, what we’re saying is, let’s actually look at what you’re trying to solve for and let’s talk to people with disability and help them co-create a solution, because some of the people I’ve met in this sector are some of the most interesting vibrant people who have had to solve problems from the time, from time immemorial. They’re really good problem solvers. So let’s use that at the beginning of the process rather than the end. So we’ve been working a lot in terms of how can we do this and how can we hardwire and help organisations to hardwire this into their companies as well.

MC:

Thank you. My last question. So we’ve got a lot of non governments organisations and government agencies present today so I’d like to know if you have any recommendations that you’d like to make to organisations, maybe to modify their policies or activities to make them more digitally accessible for people with disability?

Manisha:

So one of the things that we do at Media Access Australia is a digital accessibility maturity index which is a way for an organisation to actually map their thinking and their processes around digital inclusion. What that does is it goes from top to bottom in an organisation, looks at purchasing policies, the whole lot and shows where the strengths are and where the depths are. So that’s something that’s quite simple that people can do. The other thing which I think is a bit more of a complex answer, but using my view, the problems that we have are the same problems we had before the word, digital, existed. It’s just that now we’ve got a different channel as well. So I’d be looking at where the actual, why isn’t it happening rather than why is it, where is it happening in a way, and look at what the barriers are at a micro level because sometimes they’re technological barriers, sometimes they’re emotional barriers. Sometimes they’re barriers because people don’t have the agency. So people can have, we know, for instance, that there are ways to make a website accessible using, to a certain level, so if we want to make sure that our website can be read by a screen reader, it’s not overly difficult to do that. However, if a person is building the site and they haven’t been trained effectively in how to build a website and they don’t have the time, they’re not, they may well forget that whole thing. So it’s a bit like learning the grammar when you learn how to write and read. So if you know grammar, things are just a lot easier. So why isn’t the person doing that? Is it because they haven’t the grammar, is it because they don’t have time, is it because they don’t the ability, is there an emotional barrier, what is it that’s stopping people in your organisation from doing what they need to do? It could be one or any of those things because no organisation’s the same and no barrier is the same. Sorry, just on that, one other small thing and then I’ll hand it across, is one of the things that we often say is ask people. So ask people with disability, in your own organisation or your clients, but there’s a caveat to that, don’t expect them to come up with all the solutions for the issues that you might have in your organisation. So we’ve had situations where someone I know who is, has a disability who is a lawyer will often be asked how to solve the technology issues in the organisation or which chairs he needs to have and he’s responsible which I thought was really great. He’s actually hiring me here as a lawyer so I can tell you that it’s not working for me but it’s actually your job, technology person, to sort out my issue just like you sort out everybody else’s issue. So I think it’s this thing about asking but not expecting someone, the person who is experiencing the issue to solve everything, just like none of us do. So if I have a problem with my computer I don’t expect the technology person to say to me, “oh well actually can you just work what the solution is and tell me and I’ll purchase the right thing”, and it’s the same with disabilities.

MC:

So I’m going open the floor to questions. Are there any questions for our panellists?

Question from the floor:

Hi. It’s Graeme Smith from Ability Technology. I’d like to pose the question to the panel as to what confidence we can have at digital technology in the future will be accessible, given the track record of assistive technology and digital technology in the past. So I’m just wondering whether, the track record is not great in terms of digital technology being accessible. So what hope do we have regarding the future? Aren’t we always playing catch-up?

Manisha:

Yes and no, I think is the answer. I think that it comes back to this, two things there; one thing is that I think as human beings, disruption and digital age is deeply problematic. So let’s just not think about people with disability or experiencing disability as human beings, this is a deeply problematic issue for us all. So as we learn new things and we give away old things we’re actually losing something as we’re benefitting something. I think that that’s always going to be the situation, it’s part of the human condition. What gives me hope, because I think, I feel sometimes that, you know, I often talk about the barriers and the problems but one of the things that I think is really interesting is this whole idea of inclusive design at the end of that, so starting to look at the people who are at the edges or who have been the people who have been excluded as the people who are the, I guess, the strength in the new system. The reason I think this is interesting is we talk a lot to the technology companies and a lot of the work that’s being done around artificial intelligence is being done with people with disability at the core, and the reason it’s been done that way is because organisations are starting to understand that actually if they start at that point they’re going to actually be able to understand things better when it comes to mainstream. So, right, and I think that’s where the opportunity exists, it doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect but I think that it does allow us, I guess, some more leverage than we’ve had in the past.

Question from the floor:

Thank you and I thank the panel for your comments. I work in a company that developed platforms for both the aged and those people with disabilities, I just wanted, just make a general comment the things that we’re finding is it the more that we work in this centre with the people, themselves, and it is person centred and it must be person centred, the more development that is required. One of the areas that we thought moving in was that we are talking with a single particular group and we’re not, but the solutions are available and the solutions, I think, will make our life vastly better A case in point is someone with motor skills. We had a pack that was modified for that, but not quite, not well enough so there are certain things it can pick up but I think we all will continue learn in this process and it is a journey and it’s not going to have a finish line.

Manisha:

Thank you. With that question, this is a micro response I guess rather than a macro one, but one of the things you mentioned that I think we often underestimate is the notion of time and we live in a rapid world and we talk about rapid response and rapid solutions and fast impact. But actually if we take the time to do things in a particular way the products we get out at the other end are better. Sometimes I think that we expect a lot without and we expect quick solutions, whereas, sometimes taking that time, and in this space, particularly, time seems to be a really, it’s on our side. If we use it, it actually really gives us something really great back. If you take the time to talk to people, to listen to them, and to prototype to test to re-listen really works. I thank you for your comment because that really fed that back to me.

MC:

Well thank you very much. Please join me in thanking them.

(Applause)

Conclusion:

This podcast was presented by Media Access dot org dot au.

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