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Speech - iPhone or Trombone: Age or Disability Don't Have to be Barriers (2012)

Disability Rights

iPhone or Trombone: Age or Disability Don't Have to be Barriers

Graeme Innes AM
Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission

Council for the Aged (COTA)
Western Australia

Tuesday 2 October 2012

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet.

Alan used to work as a civil engineer, and is a trombone player with two orchestras and two bands. He has competed in the Australian Band Championships for the last three years. He sold his soils laboratory to 'retire', and has never looked back. He still works part-time in soil testing, but as well as trombone playing he is a volunteer in a Rotary shop, walks 30-40 kilometers weekly, won a silver medal in the 10 km Road Race in the Australian Masters Games 2012, and completed a novel for pre-teens called 'Alex', designed to raise awareness about healthy lifestyles. He created a website for Alex - but more on that later. He is 73.

And Coral, with a biological age of 66, scored the bridge climb trifecta last year: Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. And she is off to Thailand for three weeks of touring, and a week catching up with pen pals in Malaysia. A mother of 5, with 2 grandchildren and one more on the way, Coral is an avid reader of spoken word material, demolishing about 70 books a year. She is a keen theatre goer, and attends lots of audio-described movies as well. Coral revels in all the new assistive technology for people who are vision impaired.

There are many Coral and Alan's out there, probably many in this room, who just don't fit the stereotype of helpless, frail, 'past-it', and not able to learn new skills. To Coral and Alan, and many others, age is just a number.

As Australia ages, there will be more people with disability, but for most of us, it will not significantly impact on where we want to live, and what we want to do.

So how do we ensure that negative stereotypes are not the norm, and that the human rights of Alan and Coral, and every other older Australian, are protected and respected?

As you may know, there is currently international discussion around the protection of human rights of older people through the development of a treaty focused on older people. Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner, attended the recent third session of the UN Open-ended working Group on Ageing. There's increased participation by Member States, particularly from Africa and Asia. Promoting and protecting human rights, as essential elements for creating an inclusive society, in which older people participate fully and without discrimination, continues to be an issue of interest and importance.

At the same time as advocacy for a new treaty continues, how are the human rights of older people in Australia protected? There are quite a few mechanisms that, if used correctly, can promote protection of, and respect for, the human rights of older Australians. Australia is a party to numerous human rights treaties that can be used. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

One other treaty is of significant influence. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Or, as I like to refer to it - the DisCo. The rest of the world refers to it by the unappealing acronym of CRPD, or the Disability Convention, but I like the DisCo. It's catchy, and creates a great image for me of people with disability dancing, and being able to go anywhere they want - although I haven't been inside a disco for many a long year. Thinking of it as the DisCo is more in line with the Coral and Alan's of the world.

Australia became a party to the DisCo in 2008. And it has now been ratified by 118 countries. It's not possible to give a good overview of the DisCo in the 20 minutes I have today. So here is a quick comical run down, in the style of the Crazy Warehouse Guy from the Chaser.

We've got civil rights! Political rights! Economic, social, cultural rights! Rights to be progressively implemented - to the Maximum of Available Resources! Rights restated! Rights translated! Applied to disability contexts, in easy practical terms! National monitoring and implementation! International monitoring! And co-operation! Disability discrimination is never to be repeated! And inequality has to go - out the door!

The DisCo, and the other human rights treaties, are not trophies to be taken out every few years, waved proudly, and then put back on the shelf. These treaties provide a set of tools that we must use to realize the protection and promotion of the human rights of all Australians, including older Australians. And one way for you to be involved is to contribute to the Shadow Reports. These reports, prepared by non-government organisations, provide the community picture of a country's implementation of the human rights contained in treaties. Older Australians, through their representative organisations like COTA, could make sure that THESE treaty monitoring committees are aware of how the Australian government is (and is not) protecting the human rights of older Australians.

What else could you use? Two obvious pieces of legislation could be helpful - the Age Discrimination Act 2004, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Both, depending on the circumstances, could help to promote protection of, and respect for, the human rights of older Australians.  For example, both acts include protections against non-discrimination in access to goods and services - services like health services, banking, shopping, and government information on pensions. Access to these services, and others, are essential for older Australians. Yet, these services are increasingly being offered online. Hence, ensuring access to the internet for older Australians will be crucial in protecting, respecting and fulfilling the human rights of older Australians.

You are, of course, entitled to lodge complaints with the Human Rights Commission if these laws are not complied with.

We live in an increasingly connected society. The national broadband network is rolling out fibre to homes across Australia, emails are now passé, Facebook and Twitter are so 2011, and we're rushing on to Tumblr and Pinterest. The internet and social networks provide a huge range of wonderful opportunities, but can also be a challenge for some people, particularly for older Australians.

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 older Australians 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 increasing fast. 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.

This is a major issue. Older Australians, those in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, have a right to access the internet - to confidently access essential services such as health services and banking; to shop on-line; to obtain government information - which is increasingly only available on the internet; to remain connected - connected to their families, friends and community; and importantly, to have the opportunity to become competent at getting on the net, knowing what they're looking for, and protecting themselves against fraud.

Many older Australians are already on the net, and it has opened up a whole new world. Alan, the trombone playing civil engineer - has learnt how to create websites, and has built the website for his novel for pre-teens called 'Alex'. He has also built a website on being 'weight wise'. Alan is challenging the negative stereotype that older people can't learn about new technologies.

And Coral - she is on the computer, and sends SMSs with the best of them.

Then there is 91 year old Barbara. In 2003 she was living with her husband on a sheep-wheat property between Hallett and Jamestown in mid-north South Australia. She had felt for some time that, unless you were connected to the internet, you were not connected to the world. So she decided to buy a computer. Confronted by an array of equipment that she needed to learn to use, Barbara purchased several books for beginners, which might as well have been written in a foreign language. Not despairing, she followed this up with lessons for beginners, and was introduced to Internet Explorer and email, learnt how to use CDs and DVDs, and discovered 'Publisher'. With a digital camera, computer, scanner and a printer, the possibilities were endless. Barbara regularly has 'You've got mail' moments on her screen;  she always feels pleasurable expectation when she opens up the Inbox, and thinks her great grandchildren have no idea the pleasure their notes give her. And each year, she produces a family calendar.

These stories, and many others, come from the Age Positive page of the Commission's website at Log on to enjoy more.

Of course, as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, and in my personal life, I am also on the computer and the iPhone. But I have another admission to make: 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'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 recently when, in reply to a text from her expressing some nervousness about participating in a particular activity I replied, "Come on Rachel. YOLO."

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 for Australia. 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.

Just one example is the Telehealth program. It removes the barriers to accessing medical, nursing or pharmaceutical services for Australians who have difficulty getting to a specialist, or live in rural and remote areas.

The benefit of programs like Telehealth for older Australians, or using the internet to shop, or be socially connected, relies on the willingness and ability of older Australians to safely access the internet. While Barbara, Coral and Alan are confident internet users, not all older Australians are. Older people are less likely to have an internet connection, less likely to enjoy going on line, and likely to be vulnerable to internet fraud. We need targeted and effective strategies so that older Australians become confident internet users.

So where do older people turn if they want to learn more about the internet, the NBN, and social networks? There are TAFE courses, but they're not always close by, and they're not always structured for beginners.

There are a number of well aimed initiatives. Through the Government's Broadband for Seniors Initiative - seniors cyber kiosks - funds are available for senior citizens clubs, residential facilities, or community services to obtain computers, and hire trainers.

Telstra have their Telstra Connected Seniors free program. It helps older Australians learn more about technology, so they can stay connected to their family and friends. It includes interactive workshops across the country. 

Another initiative links up older people with younger people. The Woollahra Council in Sydney is working with a number of secondary schools, bringing together volunteer students and older people. The students provide computer training skills in one-on-one sessions. Other councils are following suit.

This program starts a two way process. Young people share their experience and knowledge of computers, and older people share their much broader life skills. It welds people together. One 16 year old boy teaches a man in his 80s how to use a computer. They've clicked, and now the young man is learning about the older man's life, and what things were like when he was 16. A real relationship has grown.

While it's important to get older Australians on the internet, and social media, research shows that older Australians are the most vulnerable to internet fraud or scams. This is because they have the least internet access. There must be protection against this.

If I get an appeal from a woman in Nigeria who says she has millions of dollars, and wants to put it into my bank account for me to mind it, I would automatically hit the delete key - I've seen it before. But if a person sees it for the first time, and they are a person who worries about what's happening in Nigeria, they may try and help, and send their bank details.

Or "You have won a million dollar prize in a UK lottery. To receive your prize you have to send $200 as a service fee, and we'll send it to you". Anyone comfortable on the internet hits the delete key, but many older people have succumbed to that scam.

Then there are the advanced fee scams. Bargain prices for new TVs or household items: "You can get it for half the retail cost, but you need to send a deposit, and we'll secure one for you." The new television never appears, and the money you paid has gone as well.

While there is information out there on how to avoid internet scams, ironically most of it is on the internet. So we need to be making training available. To do this, we need to use the media that older people are using. Radio, to which a lot of older people listen. TV, around the programs that older people like to watch. Seniors' magazines, even the good old daily tabloids.

While many of us blithely send out emails, shop online, send out our tweets, and play words with friends, we don't often think about the challenges for particular groups in our society. I know from personal experience that access to the internet for people with a disability can be a challenge. Access for older Australians is also one that we need to watch. It's important that we include everyone, as our society changes and moves more towards being online. Ensuring that older Australians can confidently go online, without risk, is ensuring the human rights of older Australians are promoted and respected. Just like Allan, we should all be able to move from trombone to iPhone.

Thanks for the chance to speak with you today.

Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner