Digital Inclusion – ‘Mind the Gap: bridging the disability digital divide’ event

Online Disability Action Week event held 18 September 2020

‘Mind the Gap: bridging the disability digital divide’, was a virtual event held on 18 September 2020 in recognition of Disability Action Week (14 – 18 September), and attended by over 100 people from across Queensland. This free virtual event looked at innovative ways to close the digital divide for all people with disability, across all areas of their lives. It was held in partnership with the Community Services Industry Alliance (CSIA) and funded by the Queensland Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors.

Participants heard about the ways people with disability are already using technology to stay connected, and came together to ask the big questions about how we can use these positive experiences to bridge the disability digital divide in Queensland communities. Over twenty speakers – from entrepreneurs to health professionals, artists and advocates – shared their experiences on how people with disability, community, business and government are designing and innovating in the digital realm and connecting more people with disability than ever before.

Our keynote speaker videos are available (captioned and AUSLAN interpreted) here:

Gisele Mesnage, Founder of Digital Gap Initiative (DGI) – spoke about her long-term efforts and successes advocating for closing the disability digital divide, including her work with Coles Supermarkets. The Digital Gap Initiative (DGI) is an all-volunteer organisation dedicated to forging systemic pathways towards an inclusive digital age.

Access Gisele’s talk here Gisele Mesnage Keynote Video

Laila Coulton, Delivery Manager Digital Experience and Accessibility at Coles supermarkets spoke about the journey Coles went on to become more accessible, how they did it, and what impact it has had on their business.

Access Laila’s talk here  Coles Keynote Video

Marlena Katene, music journalist and online content creator, spoke about the importance of her digital voice, and what it means to her to have access to digital connection and power to influence on social media in the Digital Age.

Access Marlena’s talk here Marlena Katene Keynote Video

Following the introduction and keynote speakers, participants joined the break-out room of their choice. There were five concurrent break-out rooms focusing on topics relating to digital inclusion.

Breakout Room 1: Connecting with Communities Digitally


  • Joanne Beadle, Queensland Manager of Givit, a not-for-profit organisation which works with community and corporate organisations to source digital devices that marginalised and vulnerable people may need.
  • Veronique Di Loreto, Respecting Rights, a self-advocate based in Canada spoke about ‘Get Connected’, a campaign focusing on getting people with intellectual disability online and improving digital literacy.
  • Donna Best, from QDN Hot Topics, Brisbane and Daniel Beimers, from New Vision Advocates, Canada shared how these two peer groups of people with intellectual disability connected online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what this new connection meant for them.

Key feedback points from Breakout Room 1:

  • We heard many positive experiences around increased access to technology during covid, people being able to frequently check in with their health professionals and receive the care they needed in a safe way,
  • Some challenges were experienced where people needed to retell their medical history. Health professionals not having the time to read pre‑prepared summaries of people’s health issues,
  • There was an issue around access to technology and the importance of both health professionals and non-government organisations, people and their carers sharing tips and methods.

Breakout Room 2: Working Digitally


  • Mathew Townsend is an entrepreneuradvocate and environmentalist. In 2017 he founded Nature Freedom, which aims to connect and introduce young people with disabilities and/or mental health issues to access, participate and lead action with local Bushcare and environmental groups.
  • Marcello Massi from NBN Co. shared how NBN Co are supporting people with disability to get online to be able to access broader employment opportunities in a digital environment.

Key feedback points from Breakout Room 2:

  • Givit did work around helping people get access to devices,
  • It was great that the two Queensland and Canadian self‑advocacy groups have been able to connect during COVID,
  • connection is important for all of us,
  • It is important that people have access to devices and that they are affordable,
  • People need the support to connect, the support to learn and that peer support is really important in helping people.

Breakout Room 3: How the Arts have adapted to the Digital world


  • Bree Hadley, Associate Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology, spoke about the scope for digitisation of the arts in Australia, the importance of making new work with digital access in mind, and what this means for audiences and artists with disability.
  • Madeleine Little, theatre maker and Festival Director, Access Arts Undercover Artists Festival, in conversation with Bree Hadley, shared snapshots of artists with disability in Queensland, and observations from Access Arts on how the arts industry responded to the challenges of COVID-19.
  • Sarah Styles, a writer with disability, shared how the shift to online during the COVID-19 pandemic provided her an opportunity to connect with the State Library of Queensland ‘Word on the Street’ creative writing program.

Key feedback points from Breakout Room 3:

  • Finding out about ways to protect yourself online from cyber-attacks and other exploitation is important,
  • People recognise the high value of technology in supporting people’s participation and inclusion,
  • Need to address the intersection between people and how to use technology or the opportunity technology brings to help make that happen,
  • More education needed to help people who are interacting with entrepreneurs who also have an ability to educate them about communication, engagement.

Breakout Room 4: Queensland–wide: Is Digital Literacy Happening? 


  • Brian ‘Binna’ Swindley, owner of Janbal Gallery in Mossman, Far North Queensland, spoke about his lived experience of accessing devices, data and online content as a business owner and community member in regional, rural and remote Queensland
  • Jessica Wilson, National Director, Good Things Foundation, spoke about online safety and increasing digital literacy and inclusion for people who are socially marginalised.
  • Peter Tully shared his perspective as an IT professional, small business owner, and disability advocate – Peter worked to help connect over 200 people with disability to the digital world throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key feedback points from Breakout Room 4:

  • Looking at what work is being captioned, audio described and Auslan interpreted,
  • Technology has enabled people to participate more greatly in the digital space during COVID,
  • Have also found that there needs to sensorially difference, sensory overload,  or a cognitive process consideration when we move into the digital space,
  • In terms of skill development in the online space and use of devices, often there is training and skill development that doesn’t take access or into consideration,
  • It’s been good as has allowed connecting across the state in other areas other than Brisbane in terms of peer-based support.

Breakout Room 5: The Digital Age: the experience of people with disability and online access in health services


  • Sharon Boyce, educator and disability advocate, shared her experiences on solutions that have been implemented to bridge the digital divide in the health system during COVID-19, and what challenges remain.
  • Dr Camila Shirota, researcher and research fellow at the Hopkins Centre, shared her work in innovative use of technology across all phases of rehabilitation.
  • Sharon Sweeny, Executive Manager of Brisbane North Primary Health Network shared how primary health have adapted to the changes to health services during COVID-19, as many services have been delivered digitally – and what this means for patients with disability and primary health going forward.

Key feedback points from Breakout Room 5:

  • The group stressed very much the need for devices, for people and devices that are fit for purpose,
  • Need to work with varying pieces of other assistive technology,
  • Digital connection is absolutely key to everyday life, running a business and be able to connect with government,
  • The need for affordable data and enough data,
  • The importance of peer support,
  • Additional challenges that need to be taken up when you live in regional and rural parts of the state or from different cultural backgrounds and making sure that whatever is put in place works in those places or at least accounts for that.