Comms Alliance, AMTA say industry can solve accessibility

Telco industy association open to "conversation" about legislation.

The M-Enabling Australasia conference took place at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. Credit: ACCAN

The M-Enabling Australasia conference took place at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney. Credit: ACCAN

The Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) have said accessibility legislation may not be necessary to remove barriers to technology for people with disabilities.

The comments from the telco industry came after Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin proposed a law mandating accessibility at the M-Enabling Australasia conference in Sydney.

The ACCAN proposal has received support from Senator Kate Lundy, minister assisting for the digital economy under the Rudd Labor government, as well as Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

In a statement to Computerworld Australia, Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton said he is happy to discuss accessibility issues with the government, but stopped short of supporting a mandate.

“We agree that ensuring accessibility against a backdrop of rapidly changing technologies and services is an ongoing challenge and we are ready to engage with the Government and other stakeholders to pursue that objective,” Stanton said.

“Whether we need additional legislation to cover any new telecommunications-related accessibility needs—as opposed to building on the existing co-regulatory provisions—should be part of that conversation.”

AMTA CEO Chris Althaus took a similar view. "Mandatory requirements have limitations and co-regulatory approaches are preferred given the dynamics of mobile sector, which is characterised by innovation and competition," he said.

"A more sensible approach is one of regulatory forbearance to avoid imposing regulatory burdens that can potentially stifle innovation. Innovation is achieved when industry compliance costs are minimised and industry has more flexibility to adapt to the rapid pace of technological change and ongoing development."

The legislation as proposed by ACCAN would require all TV programming streamed online or on digital video-on-demand services like iTunes to include captions for the hearing impaired.

In addition, it would require VoIP services to be accessible to people of all abilities, provide access to telecom equipment for deafblind Australians and guarantee that broadcasters’ emergency messages are accessible with AUSLAN interpreters and captioning.

Stanton said that the industry is already doing much to encourage accessibility.

“The telco industry has put in place a range of industry codes and guidelines designed to promote accessibility of communications services,” the Comms Alliance CEO said.

“These include instruments that provide information on accessibility features for telephone equipment and payphones, access for people with disabilities and older Australians, and accessibility requirements within the recently revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) code.”

One such service was announced today by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF).

The groups announced a new Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative website, located at www.GARI.info, to help seniors and people with disabilities to find accessible mobile devices. Users can search for devices that run specific accessibility apps and more than 110 other features.

“For example, a person with vision impairment can now use the GARI website to search for a new smartphone or tablet that works with their favourite text-to-speech app that can read out emails and text messages along with other features they might be searching for like voice recognition software or a high contrast display,” said MMF secretary general, Michael Milligan.

The service is part of an effort by the mobile industry to break down barriers to people with disabilities, said AMTA's Althaus.

“Originally developed in response to requests from disability groups for improved information on accessibility features, the latest evolution of the GARI project shows the industry’s commitment to improve access to mobile phone technology for the people who can benefit from it the most,” he said.

However, a report released yesterday by Media Access Australia (MAA) concluded that Australia has fallen behind on another area of accessibility — captioning for video on demand.

“Consumers are increasingly watching TV programs and movies online, on a variety of devices,” said MAA TV project manager, Chris Mikul.

“In Australia, the only networks which provide captioning on their catch up services are the ABC and SBS. The only Australian video on demand service to offer captioning on some content is iTunes.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags accanCommunications AlliancetelecomdisabilitiesTelcomobilevideo on demandblindMedia Access AustraliaAustralian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)accessibilitydeafMobile Manufacturers Forum

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