Round-up of the M-Enabling Australasia 2013 Conference

Monday, 19 August 2013 17:50pm

Experts in mobile technology, accessibility, industry representatives, government and disability and consumer advocacy groups last week came together to discuss challenges and trends in mobile technology and accessibility at the M-Enabling Australasia 2013 Conference. Held at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, the conference was organised by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) in joint partnership with Telstra.

International speakers including Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US, and President and Executive Director of The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3ict) Axel Leblois, discussed how accessibility is currently driving innovation in legislation and mobile technology.

Peltz Strauss spoke about the decade-long lead up to the signing of one of the most comprehensive access legislations in the world, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010 (CVAA).

“For the first time, almost every bureau is working together as a result of the CVAA because of its voluminous nature,” Peltz Strauss said.

The CVAA is a pioneering piece of legislation which clearly sets provisions for online accessibility, including the use of captions on online video content. It also addresses the use of audio description by major US TV networks.

“When you incorporate accessibility, it encourages innovation,” she said.

“The CVAA ensures people with disabilities are not left behind when digital innovations take place.”

In his talk about the international perspective on mobile accessibility, Leblois said the accelerated uptake of mobile devices around the world, and in particular Australia, provides a business case for improved accessibility.

“Australia is the fourth highest country in the world for [the] percentage of population using mobiles to access the internet,” he said.

Leblois points to incorporating accessibility in procurement policies as a way to ensure accessible services are available for the increasing number of people who require them.

The question of how to future-proof legislation in light of the rapidly changing technology was also discussed. Acknowledging that the CVAA itself requires some work in this area, Peltz Strauss suggests the use of flexible language such as “successive technologies” and “subsequent technologies” to ensure legislation isn’t out-dated by changing technologies, but notes Australia’s Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) provides flexibility where developing technology is concerned.

“Australia’s DDA is a good example of legislation that opens up to future interpretation,” she said. Peltz Strauss added that excluding the needs of people with disabilities in legislation could result in more costs. “If you don’t have access to communications if you’re a person with a disability, there’s a lot of costs to society. When you’re dependent and isolated, there will be much more costs in terms of lost income and lost productivity,” she said.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes also highlighted the DDA and its potential to achieve access to technology for people with disabilities.

The Disability Discrimination Act has always applied to technology and the internet; that has never been in doubt,” Innes said.

In addition, Australians under-utilise current access legislation, including the DDA. He said while he is not against the introduction of new laws to increase access to emerging technologies for people with disabilities, he believes the legislative process would be lengthy. “I wonder if the time spent on legislation is better spent on complaints,” he said. Innes points to social media avenues such as Twitter to submit complaints under the DDA as well as continued lobbying as vehicles to achieve results.

Similar to Leblois, Innes also proposed “accessible procurement” as a possible solution to ensuring government services are accessible. “The US has law in this area and it’s not perfect but at least it does get government - federal and state - when they buy, to buy accessibly.”

“Do we need more regulation? I think minimum standards could be useful but it’s not the only answer,” Innes said.

Dr Andrew Arch from the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) discussed the progress of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy (NTS). The NTS is currently in implementation phase and due for completion at the end of 2014.

The NTS is Australia’s whole-of-government strategy to increasing the accessibility of Australian Government websites. A survey conducted earlier this year by AGIMO to monitor the progress of agencies in adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 has indicated there is a lot of progress.

Arch said it is likely some agencies, particularly within service delivery, will not be able to meet the 2014 deadline. Under the NTS, Federal Government websites are required to reach Level AA compliance of WCAG 2.0. Arch pointed to “the aggressive timetable” set by the NTS as a contributing factor to the delay in meeting compliance. He said rather than trying to “retrofit” current websites in order to meet Level AA requirements of WCAG 2.0, many government agencies are aiming to reach conformance in future developments of their various websites.

“Build accessibility from the start. It’s an awful lot cheaper than trying to fix it afterwards,” Arch said.

Despite the challenges in meeting the deadlines set by the NTS, the strategy has increased activity and awareness of web accessibility within government. “The thing that thrills me at the moment is the convergence that is happening.

“It’s not just for people with disabilities now – awareness is also driving a whole lot of development,” Arch said.

He adds government agencies will place their efforts in ensuring external facing websites meet WCAG 2.0 requirements. “Agencies have put their initial efforts into public facing websites because they don’t know who the audience is, and have often got a much bigger audience as well.”

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