Access to computers and online services by people with disabilities can be decisive to their quality of life and independence. It will define their opportunities to participate with other members of the community in the information age.
The recommendations below for further action are based on discussion between participants at the final panel session of the AccessAbility workshop held on 14-15 May 2001. Supporting information has been obtained from the AccessAbility workshop papers. The recommendations are designed to accelerate and broaden the online opportunities for people with disabilities in Australia.
Five main elements were identified as major issues for people with disabilities to participate in the Information Economy:
These include the need to:
Each recommendation reflects avenues and actions to address these issues.
1. To increase the availability of computers and access devices, we propose the establishment of a national Disability Information Technology Scheme for people with disabilities with the following components:
(a) Creation of a pool of assistive devices to facilitate public access This is an ongoing program and could be modeled on the Networking the Nation project in Tasmania entitled “Tech Assist Online”. Funds would be used to purchase assistive devices to facilitate public access in centres used by people with disabilities. This is a national program and equipment is upgraded as required.
(b) Low interest loan program for purchase of computer and printer This program is directly available to people with disabilities on low incomes. Loan repayments to be administered through Centrelink.
(c) Development of a national clearinghouse and network of regionally-based PC recycling programs for people with disabilities This network would build on existing expertise in administering such programs such as Rural & Peninsula Disability Support and Green PC and make use of computers surplus to requirements by the three levels of government and corporations. This computer equipment is provided to people with disabilities meeting eligibility criteria. It can be used as a model for cooperation between government, industry and the community.
In addition, assistive devices are provided as needed through a federal government program and upgrades to equipment are provided upon application.
2. To increase the availability of computer training for people with disabilities, we propose a national Training Partnership Scheme with the following components:
(a) A multi-tiered training program to support people with disabilities in their use of the Internet.
It is important to have a multi-tiered training program in order to cater for the differing requirements of people with disabilities. The expertise gained from the AccessAbility projects can input into the development of a nationally coordinated program, funded both by government and corporations. Corporations could include telecommunications providers and Internet Service Providers, who have a direct interest in increasing the number of online clients. Partnerships between community organisations, universities and companies such as Spectronics will assist in a number of ways.
(b) Delivery of training will be provided at the local level by people trained through regional Train the Trainer programs. This is supported by online training as appropriate. Ongoing support is offered if required. Training is provided for paid carers of people with disabilities in the use of assistive devices for accessing online services.
(c) People with disabilities are included in the newly announced Government and Telstra Internet Assistance Programme. This Programme will include a national Online Help Service to assist people in connecting to the Internet by providing help in the configuration of PCs and modems for connection to the Internet. It is vital that strategies include assisting people with disabilities.
3. To increase the affordability of Internet access for people with disabilities, we propose that an Internet Access Allowance be implemented.
This should be organised along similar lines to and in addition to the Telephone Allowance currently administered by Centrelink. This allowance will assist people with disabilities on pensions to cover the costs of connection fees to an Internet Service Provider.
4. To ensure that Government policies and activities in information technology and telecommunications take into account the needs of people with disabilities, we propose the establishment of an IT&T Disability Centre of Excellence.
This Centre of Excellence will coordinate IT and telecommunications policies relevant for people with disabilities across federal government departments.
5. In order to promote future research in the area of assistive technology, and to encourage the development of an effective assistive technology industry in Australia, we propose the establishment of an Assistive Technology Research and Development Corporation.
This would enable the work initiated by AccessAbility, especially in terms of the encouragement of research, to continue. The Corporation would:
The work of this Corporation would foster the development of an Assistive Technology industry in Australia, with considerable export potential, especially in the Asia region.Gunela Astbrink