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Access iQ Launch, Media Access Australia (2012)

Disability Disability Rights

Access iQ Launch, Media Access Australia

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Graeme Innes AM
Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Good morning, I'm Graeme Innes and I tweet. In fact I probably tweet five to six times a day. I get my breaking news on Twitter. I get my cricket updates on Twitter. I even get Alex Varley's soccer results - as well as other useful information which he tweets. I'm a Twitter junkie. I tweet so much that my wife - who loves me a lot - threatens to stop following me. I'm even into the language. I shocked my 14-year-old daughter the other day when, in reply to a text from her expressing some nervous hesitation about participating in a particular activity I replied, "Come on Rachel. YOLO."

As well as being part of the Twitterati, I'm on Facebook. You can see I'm a committed social networker. I have a private Facebook account and a Facebook page as Disability Discrimination Commissioner. I get emails about Facebook updates, but I haven't been to the site for quite a while. I have someone who works with me to update my Facebook page and I stream my Twitter feed there. This means, of course, that it's not so interesting because it does not have my personality.

So why the difference in approach? Why a junkie on one but a bit of a dinosaur on the other. No, it's not because of the movie "The Social Network" and my views on Mark Zuckerberg. It's because Twitter is far more accessible. Just like all of us who use the web and social networks, I make my choices based upon usability.

Now, as well as being a member of the Twitterati, I'm an NBN champion. That's because, when you get past the politics, the NBN is a vital project. Not because of faster movie downloads. But because it will be the foundation of how Australians conduct business, receive healthcare and interact with one another. Already, there are projects and services being delivered that the NBN has made possible. For instance, kids with sensory impairment in the bush can now get specialist medical care via video link. And Auslan (Australian Sign Language) can be sent by video, making it more immediately available and saving busy Auslan interpreters much travel time.

As more cable is laid, everything we do online, will get faster, easier and more connected. But there's no point laying the tracks if Australians with disability can't get on the train. Around 18% of us have a disability. We're talking about a group of people as large in number as the population of Melbourne. And this number is booming. It's projected that by 2056 a quarter of Australians will be over 65. Nearly half of Australians who are over 65 have a disability and this number increases rapidly with age. With disability, the web becomes more vital and at the same time more difficult to access.

As London is about to light its Olympic cauldron, it’s interesting to remember the Sydney Olympic experience twelve years ago. Were you there? Wasn't one of the marketing lines "It's all about being there"? Bruce Maguire's opportunity to be there was severely restricted. He was unable to get the Olympic ticket book in Braille and the SOCOG website was not accessible.  After Bruce's attempts to resolve these problems through mediation failed due to SOCOG's intransigence, he took them to the Federal Court using the Disability Discrimination Act which I helped to administer. He won that case and was awarded $20,000 in damages. But Bruce didn't really want the money. What he wanted was equality - to be able to read the ticket book and access the website just like other Australians.

That was twelve years ago. Bruce was a pioneer. But now many more of us want that same equality, that ability to access websites and social networks. So is my message to webmasters and social network operators to be afraid, be very afraid? Well no, because organisations such as Access iQ are here to assist with addressing access issues.

Until very recently, essential Government services were delivered online without any consideration of who could, or couldn't, access them. People had to ask for help from family, or miss out altogether. Now Government has its National Transition Strategy and such services are moving towards greater accessibility. I can use the ABC app and iView and stream radio and TV on my iPhone, read news stories and check cricket scores. I can read more and more Government reports on the Internet. In some restaurants, I can take my wife out for our wedding anniversary and not find that the menu on the site is a PDF file. I can fill in banking forms online and get through the online security barrier to check the balance - often reduced, I do have a teenage daughter - in my account.

We are not there yet by a long way, but access is improving. Access iQ will facilitate that journey. The National Transition Strategy and the NBN go hand-in-hand, ensuring that all Australians are catered for into Australia's future. The Australian Human Rights Commission has encouraged non-government websites to follow the same principles. By law, under the Disability Discrimination Act, websites must, wherever feasible, be accessible. Maguire v SOCOG confirms that. So Access iQ can assist you to achieve that compliance in a sensible and practical way, based on their lengthy experience in the disability and IT fields.

When people consider accessibility, good things happen. Imagine being able to do the grocery shopping without assistance for the first time in your life. I don't have to imagine - I did it.  Briefly, this opportunity was there, until Woolworths updated their app and rendered it inaccessible.

As a web professional, equipping yourself with accessibility knowledge means increased independence for people with disability world-wide. It means that what you create online has longevity and the power to reach the biggest audience possible. It means that, over time, Australia will become a more inclusive place, one that treats people with equality and dignity online.

As members of a forward-thinking society, this is something everyone should adopt. But to do this, we need to work together. It's not about you as a developer, or a designer, or a manager. It's about the user. And there's an increasing likelihood that that the user will be a person with a disability.

I'd like to congratulate Media Access Australia for stepping up and providing the missing piece of the puzzle. With Access iQ, we're one step closer to a world that fully includes people of all abilities. I'm proud to launch this initiative.