Attractive blind woman talking on the phone with the loudspeaker on. Caucasian woman with a disability using the voice assistant in her smartphone

Smartphones and other information computer systems are notoriously hard to use for those with disability and the United Nations has a role to play setting better standards for accessibility, according to disability and gender equality advocates in Australia.

Women with Disabilities Australia member Claire Bertholli said accessibility functions on smartphones are ironically hard to find and “are buried in settings.”

Speaking prior to a women and technology event in New York she said there should be one button upfront. “This is set up as default in new operating systems so accessibility functions are turned on and set up to work at the start. You should have to opt out if you don’t need them, rather than opt in.”

These functions must be standard for all smartphones, whether Android and iOS, operating systems, she said. “The same thing is necessary for computer operating system and Big Tech needs to hear that. These aren’t big asks.”

WWDA and the Equality Rights Alliance have called on the UN to establish a permanent working group on technology and disability to improve assistive ICT access and affordability. 

“There are many internet hotlines with chat functions and resources like videos for women wanting mental health support, but the chat options are useless for people who are vision-impaired, and the videos rarely have captions for those who are hearing-impaired,” WWDA spokesperson Margherita Dall’Occo- Vaccaro said.

Equality Rights Alliance convenor, Helen Dalley-Fisher said accessible tech is at the heart of participatory democracy. “Women with disability are natural problem solvers and have to be every hour of their everyday lives. That’s why the proposed international working group must have the lived experiences of women with disability, who know how to innovate.”

The call comes as members of WWDA, and the Equality Rights Alliance prepare to take part in the annual meeting and side-events of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, that starts on March 6.

The theme for this year’s event is ‘Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’