HRC warns government about accessibility of technology

Australian government must reform discrimination laws, change its procurement rules and commit to standards to make technology more accessible to people with disabilities, the Australian Human Rights Commission has warned.

Its Human Technology Report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday after a three-year investigation into emerging technologies, found that poorly designed technology was excluding people with disabilities, and procurement policies and compliance with standards were lacking as a result. Australia.

Advocates hailed the results, saying governments have lost momentum on digital accessibility in recent years and are struggling to lead by example compared to other countries.

The report recommended that the federal government lead change through law reform, monitor accessibility compliance, and foster the acquisition of technologies and entities that are.

According to the report, this would allow Australia to further comply with its international commitments to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

The Australian government must change laws and policies to promote digital accessibility, according to a human rights report.

“There is a massive digital transformation underway. No one should be left behind in this process, especially people with disabilities, ”Australian Commissioner for Human Rights Ed Santow told InnovationAus.

“This is why we are asking for clear regulations and good leadership. Whenever the digital world is not accessible, it excludes people with disabilities in the same way that a poorly designed bus or building prevents people with physical disabilities from participating.

While Australia is a signatory to the International Convention on Human Rights Concerning Persons with Disabilities, federal, state and territorial governments have yet to fully incorporate it into their laws or into the National Disability Strategy – a delay of which the UN is concerned.

Australia also lacks whole-of-government federal agreements to use technology that meets basic standards such as WCAG 2.1. and Australia’s own 2016 Accessibility Standard for Technology Procurement.

While Commonwealth departments are “strongly encouraged” to meet accessibility standards and are legally required to ensure that their service is usable and accessible to people with disabilities, compliance is not regularly published.

The AHRC recommended the implementation of whole-of-government agreements to comply with the two technology standards, including the provision of publicly available information on agency compliance and a central line agency and a minister to assume responsibility. responsibility.

Australian governments should further promote accessible technologies themselves by adding requirements to their procurement rules and favoring entities that themselves meet accessibility standards, the report recommended.

“Purchasing is probably one of the main levers the government has to influence accessibility in the Australian market,” said Stewart Hay, founder of Australian accessibility agency Intopia.

“[Governments] have the ability to put the pressure back on those organizations and say ‘hey, if we want to buy your technology for 20,000 people, plus the employees, you have to make it accessible to us,’ he told InnovationAus.

Mr Hay praised the AHRC report, but said its recommendations on technology accessibility and procurement lacked some of the “teeth” and financial incentives that had helped boost adoption and awareness of the technology. abroad.

“This is something that is needed in the area of ​​accessibility because most organizations are not aware of the importance of accessibility. “

He also asked if Australian governments would have an appetite to drive the widespread changes recommended in the report. Particularly at the federal level where some agencies have “ignored” accessibility and the agency responsible for running it, the Digital Transformation Agency, had lost momentum, according to Hay.

The AHRC also calls for more fundamental reform of the disability law, including, but not limited to, reforms to the disability discrimination law.

Consulting for the report, the Commission heard that the current complaints system places a heavy burden on the disability sector, with financially overwhelmed people often left behind to try and resolve systematic issues of discrimination related to people with disabilities, such as inaccessible technology.

The report recommends that the Attorney General consult widely to reform the Disability Discrimination Act to include a standard on digital communication technologies and consider further reforms to implement the package. accessibility obligations for digital technology.

Gisele Mesnage, a blind woman who successfully sued Coles on her e-commerce website in 2014, also welcomed the report’s recommendations, including the proposed technology standard for the Disability Discrimination Act.

“The boom in communication technologies triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic makes adoption of this proposed standard imperative to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in the transition to remote work, distance learning and other forms of remote activity as a new normal in our daily life, ”she told InnovationAus.

Ms Mesnage now heads the Digital Gap Initiative (DGI), a nonprofit advocacy organization that contributed to the AHRC report.

“DGI welcomes the report’s focus on reforming Australian legal and policy frameworks around new and emerging technologies in a human rights context. “

Australian Commissioner for Human Rights Ed Santow said there had been advancements in accessibility technology in Australia but needed to be included earlier in the design phase.

“It’s about bringing the importance of being inclusive to the early stages of research and development,” Santow told InnovationAus.

“This leads to better products and services, and it’s a lot cheaper than having to modernize a poorly designed product with features to make them accessible to people with disabilities. “

Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email or Signal.

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Perry Perrie

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