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Round Table on Information Access For People with Print Disabilities

Disability Disability Rights

Round Table on Information Access For People with Print Disabilities

Annual Conference
May 16, 2004

Bruce Maguire
Policy/Project Officer,
Disability Rights Unit,
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

One day a few years ago I went in to wake my son. I told him that it
was good to get up in the morning, to which he grumpily replied, "yes,
but dad, it's even better to stay in bed".

So I asked him to consider where our advanced liberal democracies would
be if everyone thought like him: we need active citizens, I said, to uphold
the freedoms that we like to think we have, and it is the entrepreneurial
spirit of free enterprise that has made our nation what it is today, and,
anyway … And then I realised that he'd turned over and gone back
to sleep. I wonder where children get their wisdom from.

Sleepers Wake is the title of a famous Bach cantata; it's also the name
of a prophetic and visionary book by Barry Jones, written over twenty
years ago. The book's main thesis centred around the radical shift in
society that would occur (and now is occurring) as technology-including
information technology-plays an increasing role in shaping our lives.

At the same time as the phenomenal growth of "value-added"
services such as travel and tourism, online bookstores, and the many other
spinoffs of the information society, we have also seen a growing awareness
that people with disabilities have, for too long, been marginalised and
denied the rights to equality and dignity that are integral to our humanity.
Yet, we all know that discrimination is very much with us, whether in
the man-made structures of our environment, the technologies of our information
society, or the archetypal structures of our psychology and culture.

At one extreme, it is easy to summon up nightmare images of a discriminatory
world; at the other extreme, it is tempting to dream that the genius and
generosity of the human spirit (to use a phrase from a Robert Littell
novel about the CIA that I've read recently) will, like the wave of a
magic wand, remove the discriminatory barriers that people with disabilities
experience in almost every aspect of our lives.

In my presentation today, I want to focus not on dreams and nightmares,
but, rather, on what it's like to be awake to the reality that despite
the barriers, progress can be and is being made in removing discrimination.
I will focus particularly on information access for people with a print
disability, but I will also touch on a few global trends and local innovations
that are important to all of us as we deal in one way or another with
disability discrimination.

This is the third year in a row that I have had the privilege of giving
a presentation at the Round Table conference on behalf of the Commission.
By "Commission", I mean, of course, the Australian Human Rights
and Equal Opportunity Commission (abbreviated to HREOC). I am a Policy
and Project Officer within the Commission's Disability Rights Unit, and
the main function of our unit is to promote the objectives of the Disability
Discrimination Act. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is the
key piece of Commonwealth legislation that relates to discrimination against
the more than 1 million Australians who have a print disability. The DDA
is one of a number of legal instruments having to do with human rights
that is administered by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Under the DDA, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the
grounds of a disability. The objects of the DDA include eliminating, as
far as possible, discrimination against people with disabilities, and
promoting recognition and acceptance that people with a disability have
the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community.

The DDA uses a broad definition of "disability" that includes:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Psychiatric
  • Sensory
  • Neurological, and
  • Learning disabilities, as well as
  • Physical disfigurement, and
  • The presence in the body of disease-causing organisms.

The DDA sets out specific areas in which it is unlawful to discriminate.
These areas include access to premises; accommodation; education; employment;
the provision of goods, services and facilities; and the administration
of Commonwealth laws and programmes. The definitions of "goods"
and "services" in the DDA include financial and information
services provided, for example, by banks and other financial institutions,
retail shops, churches, cinemas, television stations, as well as services
and equipment provided by telecommunications companies. An organisation
such as a government department that provides services is also liable
for complaint under the DDA if those services are not accessible to people
with a disability.

The DDA defines two kinds of discrimination: direct discrimination is
when a person with a disability is treated less favourably because of
that disability. An example would be if a university refused to allow
a blind student to enrol, or if a shop assistant refused to serve a person
because they were using a dog guide. Indirect discrimination refers to
treatment that, on the face of it, is not discriminatory, but which actually
has a disproportionate impact on people with a particular disability.

For example, an employer might require that applicants for a particular
job have a driver's license, even though the job does not involve driving.
Such a requirement would indirectly discriminate against people who are
blind or who have another disability that prevents them from driving a
car. Providing emergency service information only in audio form may also
involve indirect discrimination, as it would not be accessible to many
people who are deaf or hearing-impaired.

The DDA recognises that, in certain circumstances, providing equitable
access for people with a disability may cause "unjustifiable hardship"
for an individual or organisation. I'll return to this in a moment.

Where a person with a disability believes they have been discriminated
against, they can make a formal complaint to the Commission, which will
investigate the complaint and, where appropriate, attempt to conciliate
a solution between the two parties. Where conciliation is not possible,
the complainant may take their complaint to the Federal Court or Federal
Magistrates Service, which have the authority to determine whether unlawful
discrimination has occurred, and what constitutes "unjustifiable
hardship". If the court concludes that removing discrimination would
cause unjustifiable hardship, then the complaint is not upheld, that is,
although there may be a finding of discrimination, there is no finding
of unlawful discrimination.

There are two points to keep in mind about this notion of unjustifiable
hardship: firstly, it implies that removing discrimination may involve
some justifiable hardship - it is not enough for an organisation defending
a complaint of disability discrimination simply to say that removing discrimination
will be hard. Rather, the question is when that hardship becomes unjustifiable,
and the answer will depend on a number of factors that can be considered
by the court. Secondly, the concept of unjustifiable hardship recognises
that not all discrimination can be removed, and that the rights of people
with a disability are part of a social framework whose diverse and sometimes
incompatible elements must be balanced.

Having said that, it is important to note that the defence of "unjustifiable
hardship" is not available where a complaint relates to the administration
of Commonwealth laws and programmes. This reflects the government's view
that it has a particular responsibility to promote the objectives of the
DDA, and to eliminate discrimination against people with a disability.
In the context of information access, this means that if a person who
has a print disability lodges a complaint that alleges discrimination
in the way a particular Commonwealth law or programme is administered,
then the Commonwealth cannot claim unjustifiable hardship, and so if the
complaint is upheld, it is obliged to take steps to eliminate the discrimination.
One example of such a complaint would be in relation to an inaccessible
Commonwealth government website, or the use of basically inaccessible
file formats such as PDF without accessible alternatives in publishing
web content.

The DDA works mainly through the complaints mechanism that I have just
outlined, but there are other important aspects of the legislation. For
example, the DDA allows for the development of what are known as DDA standards,
in certain specific areas, these areas being accommodation, education,
employment, the administration of Commonwealth laws and programmes, transport,
and, most recently, access to premises. DDA standards provide much more
specific information about what needs to be done to comply with the DDA
in a particular area.

Once a DDA standard comes into force, then contravening the standard
amounts to a breach of the DDA itself; but, on the other hand, if an organisation
is complying with a DDA standard, then they are deemed to be complying
with the DDA in the area in question, and so a complaint cannot be successful.
It is therefore important that DDA standards be developed with full consultation
and consideration. There was a fairly long gestation period before the
first DDA standard was adopted in October 2002, but we are now within
sight of two more DDA standards, covering premises and education.

In October 2002, the first DDA standard came into force: the Accessible
Public Transport standard. It is hard to overestimate the long-term significance
of this standard: over the next 20 years, people with a disability will
find that public transport will become more and more accessible as a result
of the biggest change to society in which the Commission has been involved.
And the development of the transport standards was sparked by a DDA complaint
made by an individual with a disability.

The Transport Standard contains a number of provisions that will have
direct benefits to people who have a print disability. For example, signage
must comply with the Australian standard AS1428.2. Tactile ground surface
indicators (TGSIs) must be installed on access paths to indicate stairs,
ramps, overhead obstructions below a height of 2 metres, and on the edges
of railway platforms and wharves, and at bus stops. Information about
public transport services must also be available to all passengers.

The Standard contains many detailed specifications, but there is also
provision for transport providers to develop equivalent access solutions.
This is an acknowledgement that making public transport fully accessible
is an increasingly complex task, and that it may not always be possible
to specify how it should be done in particular cases. If a transport provider
needs to develop an equivalent access solution, then Section 33.4 of the
Standard requires that they consult with people with a disability or their
representative organisations about any proposals for providing equivalent
access. It is therefore important for self-help and advocacy organisations
to become familiar with the Standard, and to discuss it so that they can
provide input into further development.

We are now about 18 months into the first phase of the implementation
of the Standard. At this stage, we don't have very much "hard data"
about how those provisions of the Standard that have to do with information
access are being implemented. Again, I want to stress that we largely
rely on input that we receive from the disability sector to help us gauge
what is working and what isn't. I would encourage you, for example, to
tell us about your experiences in using websites to access information
about public transport services and facilities.

Finally, before I move on to look at the other Standards, I want to remind
you that the DDA Transport Standard will be reviewed after 5 years. That
might seem a long time away now, but it will go quickly, and disability
organisations will probably want to start thinking fairly soon about recommendations
for changes and additions to the Standard, and about the review process
itself.

Over the past couple of years, a lot of work has gone into the development
of a DDA standard dealing with access to premises. This will have important
benefits for people who are blind, vision-impaired or who have another
print disability because it will include requirements for such things
as accessible signage, accessible paths of travel within buildings, and
tactile ground surface indicators for hazards and, eventually, wayfinding.

Early this year, the Commonwealth Attorney-General released the Draft
Access to Premises Standard, and a period of national consultation followed
that resulted in the Building Access Policy Committee receiving about
290 submissions. In July the Building Access Policy Committee will be
meeting to consider formulating a recommendation about the Standard, and
it will then go to the Government. So we are hopeful that we will have
a DDA standard dealing with Access to Premises some time next year.

A number of people have asked me about the DDA Education Standard, so
I will say a little about that. Many of you would be aware that last year
the Commonwealth announced its intention to go ahead with the Standard.
We are hopeful that it will go to Cabinet shortly and to Parliament later
in the year.

The DDA Education Standard will have important implications for students
with disabilities, including those with print disabilities. It will provide
much more detailed information than is in the DDA itself about how education
and training are to be made accessible, and it will address a number of
areas, including enrolment, participation, curriculum development, accreditation
and delivery, student support services, and the elimination of harassment
and victimisation. The Standard will include statements of the rights
and entitlements of students with disabilities, and it will outline the
legal obligations with which education providers must comply in order
to give effect to these rights and entitlements. As with the other Standards
that I've discussed, it is important that disability organisations and
individuals make sure that politicians are aware just how important the
DDA and associated standards are to people with disabilities.

We also now have voluntary standards dealing with electronic banking
services, including automatic taller machines (ATMs), EFTPOS, Internet
banking, and telephone banking. I don't have time this morning to go into
detail about these; the key point is that it is in your interest as people
with a disability or members of the Round Table to become familiar with
them and use them as a tool for lobbying to make our society more accessible.
One comment that I have heard a few times from industry is how few people
request Braille copies of documents such as the banking standards. I urge
you not to become complacent. More public and request-for-comment documents
are available in Braille now than there were ten years ago, but don't
take it for granted, lest the aliens come and hijack our dreams of a more
Braille-friendly world.

Information access is not just about access to books and reading material:
in fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between
what are information access issues and what are not.

For example, what about healthcare services? On Friday May 28, the Commission
is convening a forum in Sydney to look at a range of issues that have
been raised with us by disability groups, including access for women with
disabilities to breast cancer screening services, physical access to medical
facilities, and access to health services by people who require sign-language
interpreters.

Using healthcare services presents significant issues of information
access for people with a print disability. Much health information is
communicated in newspapers and via brochures and bulletins that are only
available in print. Hospital admission procedures and consent forms are
likely to be available only in print, and it can be very difficult to
the point of being a real nightmare for a blind person diagnosed with
a serious illness to find accurate and understandable information in an
accessible format. The Health Forum will, we hope, be a start in finding
ways of addressing the many issues that people with disabilities, including
those with a print disability, face in using our health system. The Forum
is not open to the public, but disability organisations such as BCA have
been invited, along with organisations of heathcare professionals.

So far in my presentation, I have been travelling along the information
superhighway. Perhaps I've fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into
a modem bank. You know, it's hard to realise that the phrase "information
superhighway" has been part of our language for less then 15 years.
Some of us like it, some of us don't, but we all now live within sight,
sound or touch of it, and that highway is bringing more information into
our lives than ever before. But, like most highways, the information superhighway
has come at a price: we have information, but we also have information
overload; we have more spam than Monty Python could ever have imagined;
and while some people may have dreams about finding "that perfect
soulmate" with just one click of the mouse on a dating website, other
sections of our society continue to experience nightmares of the digital
divide.

I remember being told back in the early 90's that the paperless office
was only a sleep or two away, and that print books would soon be housed
only in museums (where, presumably, you'd pay a dollar and a half just
to see 'em, to borrow a line from that Joanie Mitchell song about the
evils of conventional highways). Well, the information highway has actually
given us more print than ever before in human history, along with all
the other newer technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones (which
are no use right now because you've got them all switched off). Having
a print disability today is, in many ways, far more challenging than it
was in the days of papyrus and hieroglyphics. In 700 BC or thereabouts,
Homer doesn't appear to have been troubled by his print disability. In
his Hymn to Apollo, he says: "Remember me in after time whenever
any one of men on earth, a stranger who has
seen and suffered much, comes here and asks of you: `Whom think ye, girls,
is the sweetest singer that comes here, and in whom do you most delight?'
Then answer, each and all, with one voice: `He is a blind man, and dwells
in rocky Chios: his lays are evermore supreme." Maybe the lesson
is that I should sing the HREOC presentation next yea: your worst nightmare
would come true.

With each new revolution in the development of our civilisation, people
with a disability have had to develop new strategies for turning challenges
into opportunities. In many respects, the forum on accessible tertiary
materials that the Commission organised in 2002 is part of this ongoing
process of adapting to change.

The higher education sector is changing rapidly; the number of students
with a print disability is increasing, but so are the costs of producing
materials in Braille, large print, e-text, and other alternative formats;
the range and complexity of course materials is increasing, and students
are expected to be computer-literate enough to send email, participate
in online conferences, search electronic databases, and download lecture
notes from the Web. The result is that many university students with a
print disability have experienced frustrating traffic congestion and dead
ends on the information superhighway.

Early in 2002, the Commission was asked by Blind Citizens Australia (BCA)
and students themselves to investigate ways of improving the situation.
We felt that the most effective way forward was to convene a forum that
all Australian universities would be invited to attend, to initiate the
development of strategies for providing curricular materials in accessible
formats in a cost-effective, efficient, and needs-appropriate way.

The forum was held on May 29; approximately 90 people participated, representing
35 of Australia's 39 universities, university librarians, government departments,
publishers, and students. Prior to the forum, on May 28, a session was
held to clarify and discuss copyright legislation and regimes as they
impact on students with a print disability. Most participants in the forum
also attended this session on copyright. In organising the forum, the
Commission received strong support from the Australian Vice-Chancellors'
Committee, and I want to acknowledge their contribution to the forum itself
and also to the work that has taken place as a result.

The forum included the presentation of a number of "perspective
papers" that examined relevant issues from a variety of standpoints,
including student, academic, disability support staff, and government.
These papers are on the HREOC website, along with other background material,
including the discussion paper that the Commission wrote to provide an
overview of the issues to be discussed. Anyone unfamiliar with the issues
would probably find it useful to begin by reading this discussion paper,
and then move on to the perspective papers and other materials.

After the various presentations, the forum divided into 5 discussion
groups, each group dealing with a specific topic area:

1. Approaches to Production;
2. Copyright and Publishing;
3. Digital Libraries and the Sharing of Information in Accessible Formats;
4. Sector and Cross-sector Standards and Guidelines
5. University Policies, Practices and Procedures.

Each group was asked to develop recommendations aimed at improving access
to curricular materials by students with a print disability. The complete
list of recommendations is also available on our website, but I would
like to highlight some of the recommendations that we feel are the most
significant in terms of the benefits that will flow from their implementation.

A key aspect of providing accessible curricular materials is ensuring
that they are produced in a cost-effective and efficient way. Achieving
this goal has implications for all sections of what we can think of as
the "commodity chain" for accessible-format materials, from
a lecturer who writes a set of lecture notes, disability support staff
who liaise with lecturers, specialist producers of accessible-format material,
and, of course, students themselves. To ensure that there is a unified
and consistent approach to the production chain as a whole, it was recommended
by the forum that a working group be established to examine production-related
issues, including the current and projected demand for accessible-format
materials, the extent of production that is occurring both within the
sector itself and via outsourcing to specialist producers, and ways of
facilitating the sharing of existing material and preventing unnecessary
duplication.

A second key group of recommendations that was developed by the forum
relates to publishing and copyright. One of the most exciting opportunities
that the information superhighway makes possible is the use of source
files from publishers as the basis for producing accessible-format versions
of books. This would substantially reduce the time and cost of production,
since there would be no need to scan the print book or type it into the
computer. The forum's recommendations in this area envisage the creation
of a national clearing-house of publishers' files to which producers would
have access. This is clearly a medium- to long-term project, but it is
one that will have significant benefits for students.

An associated recommendation called for greater discussion of the ways
in which copyright laws and regulations can be used to enhance, rather
than restrict, access to materials by students with a print disability.
Continuing my earlier metaphor, the copyright stretch of the information
superhighway is full of deep potholes, and our task is to re-tar the surface
so that people with a print disability don't become stranded.

The forum provided a unique opportunity for the higher education sector
and the disability community to share their expertise at the beginning
of a process of achieving systemic change through consensus. The recommendations
were directed towards achieving greater access by improving current processes,
and by opening up mainstream channels. For the forum to be effective,
however, requires ongoing work by the sector.

Shortly after the forum, the Commission held discussions with AVCC to
decide how best to go about the task of implementing the forum's recommendations.
We decided to establish a Steering Committee on Accessible Curricular
Materials for Universities. The main role of this committee has been to
develop strategies for implementing the forum recommendations. The committee
has been chaired by Prof. Sue Johnston, who is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor
(Teaching and Learning) at the University of Tasmania; other participants
in the Steering Committee are Pat McLean from the University of Melbourne;
Tony Payne from the University of Tasmania; AVCC; Blind Citizens Australia;
Department of Education, Science and Training; the Tertiary Education
Disability Council of Australia (TEDCA); and the Commission.

The Steering Committee has met on numerous occasions, both by teleconference
and face-to-face. It established three working groups as part of its task
of giving effect to the recommendations from the Forum.

The Production working group has been developing strategies to make the
production of tertiary materials more efficient. At the moment it is working
on a proposal for the development of a comprehensive training package
that would provide disability support staff working in universities with
knowledge and skills in the area of accessible formats. The second working
group relates to copyright issues, and I will come to that in a moment.
The third working group has been developing guidelines that universities
can use when establishing policies and procedures for the provision of
services to students with print disabilities. These guidelines are close
to finalisation now and they will soon be referred to the AVCC Board for
ratification, whereupon they will be circulated to universities throughout
Australia. Notes from the Steering Committee meetings can be found on
the Commission's website.

The work of the Forum and the Steering Committee is, to be sure, only
a beginning, but it is an important beginning, and represents encouraging
progress that is being made in moving the objects of the DDA from dream
to reality.

Allow me to read a short extract from the minutes of the Round Table's
Production Subcommittee meeting that was held on April 5, 1993. The scene
is a discussion of copyright:

"(a) Further correspondence from C.A.L. [Copyright Agency Limited]
added to the confusion regarding distinctions in the Copyright Act between
physically handicapped and intellectually handicapped readers. The definitions
of print handicap issue needs to be resolved by Round Table - forming
its own definitions and then urging conformity from Attorney General,
C.A.L. and N.L.A. Bill Byrne will follow up with C.A.L.

(b) The possibility of contradictions between the Disability Discrimination
Act and the Copyright Act were discussed and it was resolved to ask the
Round Table Executive to investigate this matter. "

Those of you who were in Melbourne for the Round table conference last
year and who stayed awake during my presentation there will remember that
I also read this extract there, too. It is a reminder of the adage that
if something is good it will go away, but if it's bad, it will come back.
Copyright seems to be one of those things, doesn't it? It's like a nightmare
from which we can't awake. The basic problem with copyright is that it's
a balancing act: we try to balance the rights of authors and creators
of intellectual property against the rights of readers and users. But
if you have a print disability, it often feels like you've fallen off
the high wire and there's no net to stop you hitting the ground.

However, the dream of copyright peace and harmony may be a little closer
to reality for the print disability sector. I mentioned that the Steering
Committee had established three working groups. The second is the Copyright
and Publishing Roundtable. Chaired by the Commission, the role of this
group has been to work towards removing barriers to information access
that have resulted from the operation of legislation and procedures in
the area of copyright and publishing.

The Roundtable has included representatives from the Australian Copyright
Council, the Australian Publishers Association, the Australian Vice-Chancellors'
Committee (AVCC), Blind Citizens Australia, Commonwealth Attorney-General's
Department, Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), National Information and Library
Services (NILS), the National Library of Australia, Pearson Education
Australia (publishers), the Round Table on Information Access for People
with Print Disabilities Inc., and the Commission.

Realising that the area of copyright is one in which confusion and misunderstandings
abound, the Roundtable decided last year to produce a list of frequently-asked
questions (FAQ) on copyright and print disability. This work has been
completed, and it should be on the Commission's website very soon. Questions
addressed include "I am a blind person: can I legally scan a book?
Can I share it with my friends and put it on my website?"; "I
am a Braille producer: do I have to get copyright permission if I want
to transcribe music into Braille?" Some questions have clear answers,
but others highlight the need for changes and clarifications to the Copyright
Act. If you are interested in or affected by copyright, please keep your
mouse pointed at our website. And remember, too, that organisations such
as the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) are knowledgeable about the interface
between copyright and print disability, and can generally help you if
you have questions.

Our long-term goal is the establishment of a national clearing house
of publishers' texts in electronic format that could be used by producers
and individuals to streamline the conversion into accessible formats.
Over the past few years, a lot of work has been done in the US in developing
a model for just such a repository, and although the Instructional Materials
Accessibility Act has not yet been passed by Congress, we are watching
developments there with interest. We have had some preliminary discussions
with a number of stakeholders here, and we will do more work over the
coming months. We are also in the process of examining the US-Australia
free Trade Agreement (8in particular its provision dealing with intellectual
property) to see if there are opportunities for making the copyright regime
more print-disability-friendly.

Before leaving copyright, I will mention that we have also had some discussions
with the Bookshare organisation in the US. Bookshare is a non-profit organisation
that provides a website that can be used by individuals with a print disability
to download books that have been scanned. Because of the law governing
the establishment of Bookshare (as well as similar services offered by
the Library of Congress) only US citizens can use it. Bookshare is a valuable
and growing resource with over 12,000 books, and it would be good if we
could find a way for it to be extended to people in Australia. We will
continue to pursue this, and I can also say that the Commission is very
encouraged by the Resolution from the recent General
Assembly of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB) calling
on member countries to work towards the elimination of barriers to the
free flow of Braille material.

Perhaps I should pause now and proclaim in a loud voice, "sleepers
wake". Information access is important, but it is, after all, Sunday
morning, when it is especially good to stay in bed. I do want to mention
one more project in which we are involved, because we believe that it
will have important implications for people with a print disability.

Last year we commissioned the preparation of a discussion paper looking
at the accessibility of telecommunications products and services to people
with a disability. Those of us with a print disability will be familiar
with not being able to read the SMS messages that people send us, or being
unable to change the settings on our mobile phones. At one stage last
year I was asked if I could meet with a blind man who was visiting Australia
from Sweden. I offered instead to talk with him on the phone. But although
he had a mobile phone and was able to make calls with it, he couldn't
read its number, and so no-one could make calls to him. Other groups of
people with a disability are also experiencing difficulties accessing
telecommunications services. Deaf people, for example, cannot use their
TTYs with digital mobile phones or the growing number of wireless loop
and Internet-based telephone networks. Bill Jolley, whom most of you will
know, was appointed to produce the discussion paper, and it is an excellent
and comprehensive piece of work. Its title is "When the
Tide Comes In: Towards Accessible Telecommunications for People with Disabilities
in Australia". It is available on the Commission website, and I would
strongly encourage anyone who is interested in the accessibility of telecommunications
to read it.

Following publication of Bill's paper, the Commission arranged a national
forum last November to consider its recommendations and how solutions
can be developed to the issues, including information issues, that people
with disabilities have in using or trying to use telecommunications services.
The Forum was attended by a range of disability and industry representatives,
and the atmosphere was positive and inclusive. Since then, the Commission
has had discussions with a number of stakeholders, including the Australian
Communications Authority and the Australian Communications Industry Forum,
and we expect significant progress to be made in the coming months.

Earlier this year the Commission was invited to attend a European conference
on the theme of equality and disability. The purpose of the conference
was to consider the implications of the sections of the EU directive on
disability discrimination in the context of current EU and national law.
The Commission provided a paper on the Australian experience-both positive
and negative-in dealing with disability discrimination. It was very encouraging
to see just how well the DDA stands up when considered in the light of
global trends, and it is also noteworthy that we are innovators in such
areas as the development of partnerships with such groups as the banking
sector.

Australia is soon to take part in the third session of the UN Ad Hoc
Committee on the development of an International Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities (established by General Assembly Resolution
56/168, 19 December 2001). As we do so, we can reflect that the progress
that has been made over the past 10 years through the use of the DDA to
bring about individual and systemic change is no dream.

There is, of course, much more that needs to be done before the nightmare
of discrimination can be banished forever. By and large, the DDA is only
effective if people are prepared to use it by lodging complaints. Sometimes
people are reluctant to use the DDA because they think complaining is
the same as whingeing, and that people with a disability should just accept
things the way they are.

The print disability field in Australia has been enriched by the personal
advocacy of many people over the years and also by the vision of the founders
of the Round Table back in 1981. Discrimination against people who are
blind, vision-impaired, or who have another print disability can be eliminated;
society can be changed. While the Commission's Disability Rights Unit
is small and has limited resources, we are always available to discuss
the DDA and how you or your organisations can use it effectively.

It's good to get up in the morning; maybe it is better to stay in bed;
but best of all, I think, is to go to sleep at night with a firm belief
in the genius and generosity of the human spirit. It's easy to dream,
easier still to have nightmares; but by applying that spirit, we can promote
the objects of the DDA, remove discrimination, and make equality awaking
reality.

See Also

Disability Disability Rights

22nd Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

22nd Session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Australia’s appearance, 12 to 13 September 2019 Geneva, Palais des Nations Room XVII Opening Statement (5 minutes) Ben Gauntlett, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Thank you Mr Chairman. I welcome the opportunity to make...

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