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Launch of ABC Disability Awareness resources: An ABC for all Australians

Disability Disability Rights

Launch of ABC Disability Awareness
resources: An ABC for all Australians

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Sydney, 9 August 2001
Sev Ozdowski

Tonight's ceremony is, in part, a belated celebration of the recognition
of the ABC as national award winner in the Prime Minister's Employer of
the Year awards for 2000.

Although it occurred last year, this award being conferred still deserves
a celebration. Such an award is only achieved by corporate leadership,
management and staff all being committed to making the best use of the
talents of people with disabilities.

For organisations which have earned this level of recognition, equal
employment opportunity rises far above bureaucratic compliance with formal
anti-discrimination and EEO requirements. I think there is great potential
in the shift in EEO thinking in recent years to emphasise diversity planning,
with organisations looking to actively build cultures which take advantage
of the diversity of their workforce and their potential workforce in the
Australian community.

Tonight's ceremony, while commemorating last year's award to the ABC,
is also a recognition of action being continued since then, and of accountability
being confirmed for further action into the future.

Each of the disability awareness resources being launched here is addressed
first to the ABC's own operations, but also looks to the organisation's
responsibilities to Australia's broader community. The Australian Broadcasting
Corporation has a business charter which gives it distinctive responsibilities
in serving Australia's diverse community and in reflecting back that diversity.

I was struck by Steve Vizard's Andrew Olle memorial lecture back in 1999,
where he argued - at a time when most discussion about the ABC seemed
to be about budget cuts or constraints - that the ABC should have its
funding significantly expanded. Mr Vizard's point was that in a world
of advanced broadband communications the ABC may have an increasingly
crucial role, in enabling Australia to hold a mirror to ourselves, as
other mass media comes under increasing pressure in a globalised environment
to be concerned only about bulk content, mostly generated overseas.

Actually, being Commissioner as I am with another publicly funded organisation,
which incidentally costs each of us much less than the ABC's 8 cents a
day (more like 4 cents a month, in fact), I should point out that the
role of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is also largely
that of holding up a mirror to the Australian community. Our role is not
one of asserting bureaucratic control over other organisations, or imposing
political correctness on the community, but one of holding up the human
rights mirror - so that we can all see whether governments, organisations
and individuals are respecting in practice the values of respect for each
other's humanity to which an overwhelming majority of us would assuredly
be committed in principle.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has generally avoided
becoming caught up in public disputes about appropriate broadcasting content,
in relation to people with disabilities in particular - since we have
no wish to act as the politically correct censors of public discussion
which a few media commentators seem to imagine us to be.

That said, I very much welcome the emphasis given in the ABC program
makers' guide to avoiding biased coverage and achieving balanced characterisation,
to include people with a disability as a natural part of the Australian

Those of you who have seen the "Employability" video and the Program
Makers Guide being launched tonight will already know something of my
admired blind colleague, Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Graeme Innes. I mention the fact that Graeme is blind, only to emphasise
the point that Graeme himself makes in the ABC Program Makers Guide -
that his disability does not define him or define all aspects of his life,
and that he sees himself as an "average bloke": cricket fan, ABC listener,
family man, sailor, lawyer.

My predecessor as Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Sidoti, notes in the
program makers' guide that, with community attitudes being constantly
influenced by the images presented in the media, there is a basic challenge
for the media to face: to present people with disabilities more often
and in a wider range of roles and situations. Not everyone with a disability
is a tragic victim receiving record damages, and even more untypical is
the "crazed gunman" or other offender - despite the impression that might
be gained from watching some television news services that most Australians
with disabilities spend their time receiving awards by courts, or being
arrested by constables.

Being applauded by crowds for international sporting achievement is not
typical of most people with disabilities either, of course, any more than
it is typical for most of the community in general. Despite this, it seems
clear that the Paralympics and the ABC's coverage of the Paralympics made
a big contribution to increasing awareness of people with disabilities
- awareness firstly that people with disabilities are there at all as
members of the community and, beyond that, awareness of people with disabilities
as also having abilities and aspirations and individual stories to tell.
To a surprising degree, at the Paralympics we saw an elite sporting event
and the coverage of that event making an impact in advancing broader citizenship
for people with disabilities.

Another significant feature of the ABC's Paralympic coverage for people
with disabilities, this time as broadcasting consumers, was the full captioning
applied to this coverage, to allow people with hearing impairments to
participate fully.

As we are in Sydney tonight and north of the airport, I cannot help noting
the potential usefulness of captions for a large additional group: those
people who can usually hear but are affected by constant noise of aircraft
blasting cacophonously overhead during their favourite television program.

The ABC and other broadcasters have been working hard to achieve benchmarks
contained in the captioning standards applying since 1 January 2001 under
the Broadcasting Services Act - which require captioning of all prime
time, news and current affairs material. In response, deaf and hearing
impaired community organisations have said that they appreciate that the
progress made to comply with these standards has been a big challenge
for broadcasters, and provides access beyond comparison with even a year
ago. However, their objective remains to see all broadcasting captioned
- an objective which they are to pursuing through complaints under the
Disability Discrimination Act.

Handling these complaints now comes under the responsibility of the Commission's
President rather than under mine, but I can say that I am hopeful that
current discussions will produce at least a broad commitment to increased
captioning beyond current levels, and some timetables for achieving increases.

Accessibility of broadcasting also presents agendas beyond captioning.
Australia's blind citizens, for example, are well aware of overseas requirements
for some level of audio description of visual material and are starting
to consider how they might pursue these issues more actively, so I welcome
the mention of access issues affecting these Australians in the program
makers guide.

I mentioned advanced broadband communications a little earlier. Considering
the potential of the internet to revolutionise information access for
people with disabilities it is pleasing to see the emphasis which the
program makers guide places on web site accessibility, and on accessibility
being comparatively easy to achieve.

Whatever challenges and opportunities new technologies and new circumstances
may present in future in addressing people with disabilities equitably
as citizens, customers or employees, I hope we can always say that the
ABC will hold a basic commitment to serving the Australian community in
all its diversity including people with disabilities, the kind of commitment
which we celebrate tonight and which will serve the ABC well into the
future. Thank you.