The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has called for new legislation that would mandate minimum standards around accessibility for content and communications services, which is necessary to ensure no Australians are excluded from the digital age.
At the M-Enabling Australasia 2013 conference in Sydney in August, ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said too many consumers were missing out due to inaccessible technology. She said that the USA 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is a model that Australia should follow.
“An Aussie 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act would ensure that all Australians are able to travel on the road to our exciting digital future,” Ms Corbin said.
“It would mean all Australians would be able to get the same advantages from the National Broadband Network as it is rolled out.”
Services run over the NBN will provide Australians access to a range of benefits including e-health services, remote monitoring for assisted living, interactive learning opportunities, employment opportunities, increased connectedness within the community and improved access to communication services.
However, the huge potential of technology to improve the lives of people with disability will not happen by itself.
A new research report released by Media Access Australia, “Captioning on Video on Demand Services, It’s Time for Australia to catch up”, found Australia’s leading commercial video-on-demand and catch-up TV content providers are failing to provide captions for hearing or vision impaired consumers.
According to the research, even when content has been broadcast on TV with the appropriate captioning, Australia’s online video players including Foxtel On Demand, Telstra BigPond, Quickflix and Fetch TV, along with the free-to-air TV networks, fail to provide the same captions for online viewers.
In the USA, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will ensure that almost all television programming in the US that is made available on network catch-up services, and on commercial video-on-demand services such as iTunes, will have captions by March 2014.
Ms Corbin said adopting an Australian Communications and Video Accessibility Act would help Australia implement and achieve the National Disability Strategy, a commitment by all levels of government in Australia that sets out a ten year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers.
Ms Corbin said that with the help of technology and support via Disability Care Australia, more and more people with disability would be able to join the workforce. Age-related disabilities are also becoming more common due to the ageing population. Ensuring accessibility is considered from the start will mean that technology can enable people to participate in the community.
“We will need the government to develop a roadmap that helps define the future we want and provide the direction and signposts to get us to our end goal,” Ms Corbin said.
Ms Corbin said the government’s new Digital First policy must incorporate accessibility while the National Transition Strategy, though successful in making many government websites more accessible, has only just scratched the surface. The Australian Public Service Mobile Roadmap, released in June this year, barely mentions accessibility.
“A roadmap without signposts for accessibility leads nowhere for Australians with disability and the growing number of older Australians,” Ms Corbin said.
“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.”
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy completed an investigation into access to electronic media for the hearing and vision-impaired in December 2010. It recommended that the government consider introducing progressive audio description requirements, accessibility requirements on electronic program guides and regulations around the quality of captioning. Click here to read more about the investigation.
What Australian accessibility laws would look like:
An Australian Communications and Video Accessibility Act would provide the last plank in a framework that provides incentives so that no Australians are missing out on the digital age.
It would not only ensure audio description services on Australian television, but also ensure that access features – such as closed-captions and audio description – follow content across broadcast platforms – whether over the airwaves to TVs or via internet.
An Australian Act would provide access to telecommunications equipment for a significant number of Deafblind Australians.
It would guarantee that broadcasters who are responsible for transmitting emergency warnings have to make sure that these messages are accessible with Auslan interpreters and captioning.