ACCAN: Australia should take US lead on digital access

New legislation should be put in place to make sure all Australians, including those with disabilities, can access digital services

The Australian Communications and Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has put the call out for new legislation to mandate minimum standards on accessing digital content and communication services for all Australians, especially those with disabilities.

ACCAN CEO, Teresa Corbin, told the audience at the M-Enabling Australasia 2013 conference that Australia should take note of the US 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which aims to enable people with disabilities to have access to broadband, digital and mobile technologies.

“It would mean all Australians would be able to get the same advantages from the National Broadband Network as it is rolled out,” Corbin said.

ACCAN pointed out there was huge potential for technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities, beyond the current services being touted to run on the NBN including e-health and remote monitoring for assisted living.

ACCAN also highlighted a research report by Media Access Australia Captioning on video on demand services, it’s time for Australia to catch up , which found Australia’s video-on-demand and catch-up TV content providers such as Foxtel on Demand, Telstra BigPond, Quickflix and Fetch TV, as well as free-to-air networks were failing to provide captions for hearing or vision impaired consumers.

Corbin said adopting an Australian Communications and Video Accessibility Act would help implement and achieve the National Disability Strategy, which is part of a ten-year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers.

Corbin said the government’s new Digital First policy must incorporate accessibility.

“With hundreds of government services looking to provide online-only service options in the next few years we need to move quickly to get universally accessible policies and government procurement plans in place as soon as possible,” she said.

According to ACCAN, the accessibility laws would ensure that access features such as closed-captions and audio description will spread across all broadcast platforms including radio, TV or internet.

It would ensure the delivery of VoIP services meet basic benchmarks so people of all abilities can use a standard phone service. For example, requiring all VoIP standard telephone services are compatible with hearing aids.

It would also provide access to telecommunications equipment for a significant number of deaf and blind Australians.