Deafness Forum Annual general meeting

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner
Sydney, 19 October 2002
Sev Ozdowski

Allow me to commence by acknowledging the Eora people, traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.

I also acknowledge:

  • Stan Batson, Chairperson of Deafness Forum and other Board members
  • Brian Rope, Chief Executive Officer and staff
  • Members and friends of the Deafness Forum.

Thank you for this opportunity to address your AGM. These events are important times for community organisations such as yours as they provide an opportunity to celebrate your achievements, refresh your organisation and recognise the hard work of staff, your Board and the membership in general.

Today I want to talk about three issues:

  • First, I want to congratulate Deafness Forum for the strategic role you have played over the last couple of years in achieving rights through use of the DDA.
  • Secondly, I want to talk about a major new project I am sure will be of interest to you.
  • Thirdly, I want to invite you to contribute ideas for how we will celebrate the ten year anniversary of the DDA coming up next year.

Congratulate Deafness Forum for strategic use of the DDA

First a word of congratulations to the Deafness Forum and its membership on your willingness to look for opportunities to use the DDA in a strategic way.

While the individual complaints mechanism of the DDA will always be an important tool for achieving both individual and systemic rights I am encouraged by the effort put into using the DDA as a broader advocacy tool to achieve change.

The Deafness Forum has played a significant role, along with groups such as the Australian Association of the Deaf (AAD) in action that has resulted in significant changes in Australia for Deaf people and people with a hearing impairment, including:

  • the Scott v Telstra TTY case,
  • the inquiry into mobile phones and hearing aids and
  • the development of the first DDA Standard on public transport which is due to be adopted soon.

Currently the Deafness Forum is contributing to work on

  • TV captioning,
  • cinema captioning and
  • the development of a new building standard.

While this work demands significant amounts of your resources I am sure it is time well spent and I would encourage you to continue making this area of work a priority.

Telecommunications access project

I am pleased to use this opportunity to announce a major project we are about to start concerning access to telecommunications systems for people with a disability.

The area of Telecommunications provides some of the major success stories of the first ten years of the DDA.

Accessible telecommunications is obviously an area of immense significance for economic and social participation, but also one in which discrimination could have a very serious impact on such participation.

There has been substantial progress on some disability access issues in the area of standard telephone service.

However, there have also been other issues where progress on removing discrimination has been frustratingly slow despite the apparent good will of industry to develop voluntary standards.

We have also seen the development of many new types of service in recent years and no doubt many more will be developed in the years ahead.

Many of these new services incorporate mobile phones, and rely on SMS (short message service) and wireless access to the Internet.

Such services are becoming increasingly important in Australia's economy and society.

Telecommunications is an area in which technology is advancing rapidly and consequently, new possibilities for inclusion and equal access are becoming available;

At the same time, new challenges and areas in which people with disabilities are being left behind are also emerging.

While there appears to be considerable goodwill and willingness to innovate to achieve access from some sections of industry there is scope for improvement in structures for cooperation, consultation and standard setting.

While HREOC is not a regulator, we have the potential to play an important part in assisting actions by others including regulatory bodies.

There are currently a range of complaints touching on this area and we have been asked to investigate SMS messaging services and mobile phone hardware.

Issues raised about SMS have been that:

  • SMS provided to other users are not accessible to blind and vision-impaired people
  • Handsets offered or provided in association with mobile phone services do not provide access on equitable terms to the same range of features as are available to other users
  • SMS is extremely useful for Deaf users and people with a hearing impairment, but in order to get the level of usage that is needed, people have to pay for voice services that they cannot use.

Rather than conducting an inquiry into a single issue such as SMS one option available to us is to look more broadly at telecommunications access generally.

As a starting point we have decided to commission a discussion paper from one of the experts in this field to develop an agenda on disability and telecommunications access issues.

Tenders will be invited publicly to develop a discussion paper to address issues including:

  • Identifying priority issues for people with disabilities in accessing telecommunications services and equipment;
  • Reviewing current access issues and identifying possibilities arising from projected developments in telecommunications services and equipment
  • Assessing the relevance of overseas developments for the Australian context;
  • Discussing potential roles, both regulatory and program, for government and industry in achieving more accessible telecommunications services and equipment.

The primary objective in looking at this issue, as with the e-commerce inquiry and subsequent Forum, is to raise the profile of accessibility issues and establish an agreed framework for action to eliminate discrimination.

I look forward to the active participation of the Deafness Forum and other representative groups such as the Australian Association of the Deaf and Blind Citizens Australia in this project.

Ten years of the DDA

March 1st 2003 marks the ten year anniversary of the DDA coming into effect.

While we can point to clear and welcome changes over those years no-one would suggest we have achieved all we could have in that time.

In the past couple of years, however, we have developed a number of strategies, such as the Public Inquiry approach, for working with groups such as the Deafness Forum to achieve the sort of change we think are achievable.

I am confident the next ten years will build on the experience and skills we have developed and allow us to make much more progress towards achieving the objectives of the DDA.

Now is a good time to ask you as an organisation to think about and contribute your ideas on:

  • how the ten year anniversary should be celebrated and including the opportunity to reflect on achievements and missed opportunities
  • what your priorities are for using the DDA strategically over the next few years.

I would welcome your thoughts on these two questions and will be approaching Deafness Forum in the near future to discuss them further.