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Launch of Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Disability Action Plan

Disability Disability Rights

Launch of Telecommunications
Industry Ombudsman Disability Action Plan

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM,
Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Melbourne
14 March 2003

Sev Ozdowski

Introduction

Allow me to commence by paying my respects to the Wurundjeri people of
the Kulin nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.

I also acknowledge representatives here of the disability community and
the telecommunications industry. Also of course I acknowledge Telecommunications
Industry Ombudsman Mr John Pinnock and his staff.

I am very pleased to be able to be here to launch this Disability Action
Plan for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Importance of telecommunications access

Telecommunications is obviously an area of immense and increasing significance
for economic and social participation in our society.

Almost everyone in the community is accustomed to using telecommunications
services as part of working life, to keep in touch with family and friends
and to arrange social events.

The way we live and work also depends more and more on mobile telecommunications
and new services like SMS messaging. And the range of telecommunications
services and their uses continues to expand every year.

Particular importance of telecommunications to people
with disabilities

Access to telecommunications is no less vital for people with a disability
than for other members of the community - in fact it can often be even
more important for people with disabilities.

Mobile text communications through SMS or email has been a great convenience
to all telecommunications users, but something much closer close to a
necessity for deaf people for example.

A person using a wheelchair waiting in the rain for an accessible taxi
which has not turned up on time has even more need than other people for
a phone to find out what is happening, or to contact work or family the
explain the delay.

And of course, someone whose disability may present a need for emergency
assistance has a critical need for effective telecommunications access
to reach that assistance.

Issues in telecommunications access

As we know, many people with disabilities have particular needs in accessing
telecommunications equipment and services.

These include issues about the formats available for input and output
for people with sensory disabilities, disabilities affecting speech, or
disabilities affecting ability to use controls. There are also issues
about the interaction between telecommunications and hearing aids or other
specialised equipment.

Closer to the issues dealt with by the telecommunications Industry Ombudsman,
there are also issues of effective access to information about services
and costs for people whose disability affects communication.

Rapid developments in telecommunications technology are creating new
possibilities for inclusion and equal access. I have already referred
to the usefulness of mobile text communications for deaf people. Voice
control for blind people or people with difficulties using manual controls
is another example.

At the same time, new technologies and new services can present new challenges
and new risks for people with disabilities to be left behind.

Role of HREOC and the DDA

There has been substantial progress in recent years on some issues of
telecommunications access for people with disabilities. The Disability
Discrimination Act has contributed to that progress, both through the
complaint process and through the development of voluntary action plans
by Telstra and more recently Optus. The Commission looks forward to receiving
action plans from other telecommunications providers in future.

Certainly we do not see the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
as the lead regulator for telecommunications in Australia or the DDA as
the only game in town. But we do think the DDA continues to have an important
role in stimulating actions to achieve equal access.

In the next few months the Commission will be publishing a discussion
paper on telecommunications access issues. We want to contribute to discussion
of

  • access issues with current services and equipment and possibilities
    for addressing them;
  • emerging issues and possibilities with new technologies and services;
    and
  • potential roles for government and industry in achieving more accessible
    telecommunications services and equipment.

Our consultant for this project, Mr Bill Jolley, will be meeting with
many of the people in this room in the near future, so I will say no more
here about the Commission's own activities on telecommunications issues.

Importance of access to the TIO's services

Instead let me return to the importance of this action plan developed
by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

As well as the additional issues that disability can present in accessing
telecommunications services, people with disabilities experience the same
customer service issues that can arise for anyone. The TIO has an important
role in ensuring effective telecommunications services by investigating
and resolving complaints. So it is crucially important that people with
disabilities have effective access to the TIO's services.

Scope of TIO action plan

The aim of this action plan is to ensure that all people do have equal
access to the TIO's services and are not restricted by physical, communication
or attitudinal barriers.

It emphasises the key objectives of

  • Developing an anti-discriminatory corporate culture;
  • Improving accessibility to information about the organisation's services
  • Providing equal access to the complaint resolution services which
    are the organisation's core responsibility; and
  • Ensuring that the organisation's physical environment provides equal
    access.

Consultation with people with disabilities is highly important in developing
an effective action plan. I commend the TIO for the consultation which
was included in the development of this plan.

I also commend its recognition of the importance of involving staff in
the development and implementation of the plan. Disability issues cannot
be left to a single expert person or area within an organisation. Disability
is part of everybody's issues.

Importance of review and evaluation

I also welcome the commitment to regular review and evaluation of this
plan.

As you may know, in dealing with disability action plans the Commission
is not in the same position as the Affirmative Action Agency is in dealing
with reports on measures taken to improve opportunities for women. We
do not have staff available to dedicate to detailed evaluation of the
effectiveness or quality of Action Plans received.

The main methods we have for seeing some accountability for the effectiveness
of Action Plans have been

  • to make them available for public scrutiny,
  • to encourage service providers to include public participation in
    development of Action Plans; and
  • to encourage organisations developing action plans to commit themselves
    to their own reviews of implementation.

So again, I commend the TIO for making this commitment to ensuring that
this action plan is implemented and stays up to date.

Conclusion

Let me conclude then by congratulating all those involved in the development
of this action plan.

I wish you well in its implementation, and in playing your part in ensuring
equal opportunity and access for people with disabilities across Australia.

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