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Access to Electronic Commerce For Older Australians And People With A Disability

Disability Disability Rights


Access to Electronic Commerce For Older
Australians And People With A Disability

Address By
Graeme Innes
Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner
to the Conference Of The Roundtable For People With A Print Disability
22 May 2000

Graeme Innes

Introduction:

Thank
you for the opportunity to speak to the Roundtable about the Commission's
e-commerce report. In the tradition of W3C universal design for access
for all this will not be a wysiwyg   (what you see is what you
get) speech -  there will be no overheads, slides or power-point
presentations. It will be a wyhiwyg (what you hear is what you get) speech
in my voice - only marginally easier to understand (some would suggest)
than the latest automated eloquence of dectalk.

However, I've had my
morning coffee so I'll do the best I can.

Let me begin, as any
good lawyer will, with a few caveats. The first is that this will not
be a presentation for the technically-minded or knowledgeable in this
area, because this is an important but elite club of which I am not a
member. In fact, as Tim Noonan and David Mason will testify, I was only
dragged kicking and screaming to the use of a PC with a qwerty keyboard
last September. I'm not saying I hadn't used notetaking and other devices
in the past, but the last six months have been a steep learning curve
and a revelation.

My second caveat is
that I only intend to give a summary of the Commission's inquiry process
and a brief overview of the issues to be dealt with in the e-commerce
report. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the detail is on
the Commission's website,  and has been for some months - I'll give
you some tastes, but if you want the whole meal you should go to the site
yourselves.

Secondly, the Attorney-General
has not yet tabled the report, and so I must be somewhat constrained in
what I can say.

My final introductory
comment is to note the work of David Mason, the Director of the Commission's
DDA Policy Unit, and to explain our roles in this inquiry process. Whilst
one of the reasons that I was appointed as Deputy Disability Discrimination
Commissioner was to assist the President, Alice Tay, in the conduct of
the  e-commerce inquiry, David has had the major carriage of it,
and authored most of the discussion papers during the inquiry, and the
report itself. David is a better and quicker writer than me, and some
suggest that I am a clearer talker, so perhaps our roles in the inquiry
and today are appropriate.

45 minutes is set aside
for this session, but I'm keen for discussion to occur, so I'll only speak
for about half of that time.

The
Inquiry Process

In
August last year the Attorney-General  gave the Commission a reference
on e-commerce. Interestingly, such a reference initiates one of the two
ways in which the Commission can conduct an inquiry. The other is
where we publicly inquire into, or investigate (to establish a distinction)
complaints lodged under the DDA. This commenced some 12-18 months ago
and is an expansion of the Commission's role which was formerly limited 
to the private investigation of complaints. This more public form, used
in appropriate cases where systemic issues are involved, has dealt with
issues such as access to Summer Hill  Railway Station, impact of
mobile phones on people with hearing impairment, captioned television,
captioned movies, and access to the electoral process. The investigations
are carried out on the net, which makes them possible with the limited
resources we have. But these inquiries are not my topic today- however
they are available at www.hreoc.gov.au.

To return to the Attorney's
reference, it related to the implications for older Australians and those
with a disability of development and use of new technologies; outlining
their specific needs in these areas; looking at difficulties and restrictions
in accessing and benefiting from them; advising on removing barriers;
auditing internet sites; advise on education or training; recommending
ways to improve access; and suggesting minimum standards. E-commerce was
defined broadly, and we were to consult with all stakeholders. We were
to report by 31 March this year (which we have done) but the report has
not yet been tabled in Parliament.

The inquiry was conducted
openly and on the internet. Many of you will have read the initial discussion
paper published, as well as the various material written and gathered
during theinquiry. If not, it's all on that website- www.hreoc.gov.au.

The
Report In General

The
report itself is really a summarised colation of all of that material.
It recognises developments which have occurred during the inquiry, makes
some recommendations for activities in other areas, and sets some directions
for the future.

The report contains
little which will surprise this audience. Its value will be in its setting
out of the issues, raising awareness and focussing attention, and in providing
a platform from which issues can be taken forward. Hopefully, such progress
can occur on a co-operative basis. However, if government and industry
do not grasp such an opportunity, it will provide a resource for the addressing
of discrimination issues  by the legislative means available at Commonwealth
and State levels.

Work for the 
inquiry confirmed that physical barriers, affordability and equipment
access barriers, and attitudinal and awareness barriers are preventing
the subject group from having equally effective access to e-commerce and 
other services using new technologies.  Many issues are common between
older Australians and those with disabilities - ATMs, interactive voice
response systems, and internet-based services. Disability  access
issues are more accurately perceived as universal access issues - fixing
them will improve access for all.

I cannot, of course,
pre-empt the Attorney's tabling of the report by detailing contents and,
more particularly, recommendations made. I can, however, outline the areas
covered, and  express Commission views, some of which are  already
on the public record.

Is
there a problem?

This
audience does not need convincing that there is a problem. It is clear
that a much lower percentage of older Australians use the internet, ATM,
phone banking and other similar technologies. Last year 73% of 18-24 year
olds, and 16% of  people over 55 used the internet. This gap is mirrored,
although not quite so largely for EFTPOS, ATMs, and phone banking. If
this represents individual decisions not to use such  technologies
this is not necessarily a problem. However, if exclusion is the reason,
then this is a human rights issue. The removal of barriers will in some
cases require a degree of effort. However, in the Commission's view, this
is countered by the commercial gains to be made.

Barriers identified
included: cost of computers and internet connection; limited public access
facilities; limited resources and information on customised equipment;
lack of awareness of available options; inaccessability of web pages to
people with vision impairments, slower connections and older equipment; 
EFTPOS, ATMs and similar devices not accessible; safety and security concerns
for atms; privacy and security concerns on the net; interactive voice
response problems because of time, menu complexity, lack of human operators;
lack or delay in provision of materials for copyright and other reasons.

Benefits
Of Access

Access
to documents, goods and services through the internet, once initial barriers
are overcome, can provide substantial gains for the subject groups. They
include: removing the need for travel, removing the problem of turning
pages, of seeing the material, or not reading written english. Also, people
who do not speak english can use translators, e-mail for deaf people or
those with hearing impairments, etc. A related benefit is availability
at the same time - particularly relevant for vision impaired people.         

Interactive voice response
systems are increasing. They offer efficiencies in service delivery, and
convenience because they can operate 24 hours a day. For people with a
print disability they often remove many of the access barriers. However,
being complete substitutes, rather than inherent features, causes access
problems.

ATMs and EFTPOS initially
provided more independence, as they could be used by vision impaired people.
However, with more complexity this is no longer the case. The same convenience
and efficiency benefits apply to the community in general, but communications
and physical access are problems. However, if universally accessible,
they can avoid physical barriers in bank buildings, avoid travelling and
carrying of cash, etc.

Initiatives
And Developments

The
discussion paper noted a number of positive initiatives, and the report
further details these. However, in most cases, they need to be expanded
or development needs to continue. The inquiry addressed a number of areas.

At November 1999 25%
of Australian households had access to the internet. Whilst this figure
is growing, and the cost of such access is declining, one of the major
barriers for the subject group is cost - a higher proportion of this
group is on low or fixed incomes. This could be addressed by access through
community facilities. Such access could be resourced by all levels
of government and big business. These were encouraged to make superseded
equipment available, in partnership with community organisations.

The passage of the
Electronic Transactions Act was welcomed throughout the inquiry. It will
apply to a limited range of laws until July 2000, after which it will
apply to all laws not specifically exempted. It will give electronic formats
equivalent recognition to paper. Similar legislation is in process at
State levels, where many more electronic transactions occur. However,
it must be remembered that not all electronic formats are accessible.

My views on copyright
law reform were set out in an opinion piece in the Australian several
weeks ago. I commended the Attorney on positive reform proposals addressing
copyright on digital materials, setting out a negotiation process for
the provision of copyright, and establishing a tribunal for the resolution
of disputes. However, I was very critical of the far more limited regime
proposed by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which completely
ignored the needs of people with a print disability, whilst cynically
offering an exception for people living more than 4 days post away from
their local library- but we  have, as a nation, a severe dose of
rara fever - regional and remote Australia.  The average 6-8 week
delay for transcription noted by the RVIB in its submission to the Commission
was totally ignored.

Material on the commission's
site deals in detail with webpage accessability. It notes the barriers
for people with disabilities, older equipment and slower connections.
It recognises the benefits of universal design approaches, and recognises
W3C guidelines as the appropriate reference point.

The work we did on
Commonwealth sites, also on the web, showed that there were significant
barriers. Most are easy to remedy, but there is a need for agencies to
test and fix their own sites.  We have not yet named sites,
but we won't hold off forever. Further, such inaccessible sites are open
to DDA complaints.

On 21 March 2000 Cabinet
adopted specific accessability requirements for Commonwealth sites as
part of its policy for use of the internet, and the Commission welcomes
this. All sites must be audited against W3C accessability guidelines by
1 May 2000, all new contracted site work must include accessability benchmarks
from this date, and all must meet these guidelines by 31 December 2000.

State governments are
also setting out similar policies, but access to such sites is at least
as patchy as Commonwealth sites. Specific targets here need to be adopted.

Similar access problems
exist on private sector sites. Again we have not published details. However,
business needs to focus on these issues. The Commission's advisory notes,
largely adopting W3C guidelines, provide assistance in this area.

Two consultants reports
on access to ATMs are on the Commissions site - one by John Moxon on physical
access, and one by Tim Noonan on communications access issues. For physical access
the admittedly small sample audited shows disappointing results. On communications
access the need for flexibility, consistency, speech as well as screen
output, better contrast and markings etc. Wells Fargo and Bank Of America
are both rolling out speaking ATMs, so the technology is available. The
Australian Standard on ATMs is way out of date, and needs review. Building
access standards, whilst not perfect, are far  more advanced and
should be relied on by banks.

The most comprehensive
review of EFTPOS issues is contained in Tim Noonan's report on accessible
e-commerce in Australia, linked from the Commission's site. A major problem
is that many units are touch-sensitive, forcing people with disabilities
to breach the security of their pin. This and other universal access issues
need to be addressed.

Information kiosks
were considered in the inquiry, and there is much material linked from
the site. Problems with access to these are widespread, with the use of
touch-screens being one major issue. Whilst much of the information from
these may be available from other sources, their convenient location and
easy access cannot be overlooked. The data might be on the net, but you
can't walk through tourist or similar sites carrying your laptop plugged
into your mobile phone. Standards need to be developed and followed in
this area.

Automated ticketing
machines also cause access problems. Public transport and other service
providers will need to ensure access, and international industry bodies
can help in this area with standard development.

Service providers also
need to consider the impact of various verification of identity mechanisms.
All mechanisms cause some  people problems, and flexibility and alternatives
need to be put in place. Discriminatory exclusion by the use of only one
method has been the subject of a number of DDA complaints to date.       

Interactive voice response
systems need to comply with international standards which will achieve
more consistency. Longer waiting times, and access to human operators,
will also be of benefit.

Conclusion

One
of the major benefits of this inquiry has been the gathering of resources
in this area, so that information can be more easily accessed. The area
is constantly changing, and the Commission will attempt to keep this material
updated.

Inquiries such as this
serve as a platform for new initiatives. It is hoped that the information
gathered, and the recommendations in the report, will direct co-operative
efforts between industry and Australians who are older or have a disability
towards achievement of more universal access. This will be the most effective
way for government and industry to expand their market share by inclusion
of these groups.

The alternative is
continued exclusion, and the resorting by some to legislative enforcement
mechanisms.

It is the Comstission's
hope that the way in which the inquiry has been conducted, and the report
presented, will encourage and facilitate the former rather than the latter. 
Universal access to e-commerce has advantages for  providers and
users, and these can best be achieved co-operatively.

 

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