Is access to the internet a human right?

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Friday, 8 November 2013 13:54pm

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) held a public talk on Thursday which explored the issue of access to the internet and the web as a human right. Among the speakers was our deputy CEO Natalie Collins, who spoke on how people with disability rely on the internet.

The Rights Talk was well attended with approximately 50-60 people filling the room at the AHRC offices. Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes chaired the event and began by introducing the concept of human rights and how the internet and access to it is integral for society.

He asked Collins and other panel members if they perceived internet access as a human right.

"Absolutely, the internet is essential for everything we do, to get a job, communicate with family and friends, for government, and banking and shopping. It's as essential as another utility and has the ability to impact how we participate in society," said Collins.

Interesting perspectives were offered by the other panellists who included disability advocate Bruce Maguire, Nan Bosler who spoke about seniors’ engagement online, and Dr Peter Radoll who spoke about the internet needs of indigenous people in rural and remote Australia.

Key topics included:

  • Affordability of internet access and how price disparity affects rural and remote people
  • Knowledge and use of established standards and guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
  • The need to educate designers, developers and content/communications staff and how knowledge of web accessibility is maintained in the workplace
  • How can we include internet as a human right into today's legislative framework and hypothetically how would this occur?
  • Seniors needing and wanting to gain access to the internet and the concept of "What's in it for them"
  • The need for consumers to use the human rights commission and the complaints process
  • Engaging businesses through an economic imperative to make information accessible and making sure accessibility is maintained throughout executive management framework with accountability measures in place
  • Including accessibility procurement as a prerequisite for engaging third-party suppliers

Commissioner Innes said, “Without internet access, and sufficient levels of digital literacy, some people are going to be left behind. Others have already been left behind.”

In an interview with Media Access Australia, Innes talked about the particular importance of high speed internet for people with a disability:

Faster broadband speeds are just going to mean that our whole economy and infrastructure work more effectively. Just like any access benefit, ramps aren’t just used by people in wheelchairs, audible traffic signals don’t just help people who can’t see the traffic light. That’s true in education, employment and every area of life. The benefits the National Broadband Network will bring to people in more isolated situations are very large. Being able to communicate with family members who aren’t nearby, being able to communicate with older people who are still living independently.

A video of highlights from the Rights Talk is available on the AHRC website. Rights Talks are held regularly by the AHRC.

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