Labor supports new digital accessibility laws

Summary:A re-elected Australian Labor government would support new laws that ensure more disabled people can access websites and digital content, Senator Kate Lundy says.

There are about 4 million Australians with some form of disability — but many cannot access apps, websites, or digital television content that the rest of the nation takes for granted.

The issue was highlighted recently by the registered blind national Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes, who revealed that he has trouble using the ABC's flagship app.

The complaint prompted a pledge from the national broadcaster to improve its software.

Qantas also agreed to investigate ways to improve accessibility for its in-flight entertainment after complaints that voice assist technology does not work on its onboard iPads.

Speaking at the start of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network's M-Enabling conference in Sydney on Wednesday, ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin called for new laws mandating minimum accessibility standards for websites, digital content, and television.

She pointed to America's planned 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, saying that an Australian equivalent would ensure that all Australians benefit from the NBN.

ACCAN pointed to research published on Wednesday by lobby group Media Access Australia that found that video-on-demand and catch-up TV services often fail to include closed-captioning for hearing- and vision-impaired people.

"In the US, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act will ensure that almost all television programming in the US that is made available on network catch-up services, and on commercial video-on-demand services such as iTunes, will have captions by March 2014," ACCAN added.

Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy Senator Kate Lundy endorsed proposals to make digital and television content more accessible, and said that Labor would support new laws ensuring all government websites and digital content is accessible.

"If we require legislation to give effect to the accessibility principle under Digital First, then yes, we would do it," she told the M-Enabling conference.

"It would be my pleasure to work with ACCAN to deliver that legislation. Presuming and hoping we're in a position to do so — in government." The Digital First scheme is a commitment that by 2017, Australians will be able to conduct nearly all transactions with the government online.

ACCAN's proposed legislation would go far beyond government transactions and extend to nearly all digital content, including closed captions and audio description across broadcast platforms and the internet.

ACCAN also reiterated its desire to see the "captcha" online verification forms scrapped in Australia.

Captcha features are the squiggly letters that some website users are required to enter online to avoid spam.

But ACCAN said many disabled people can't use them, and miss out on digital content as a result.

A petition it has launched on calling for captcha to be banned has gathered almost 2,000 signatures.

Topics: Government : AU, Web development

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