Federal Report Recommends Making Technology Access Easier For People With Disabilities (Australia)

This article recommends strategies for helping the elderly and people with disabilities access new information technologies. Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/docs1/baker200006.html

CANBERRA, June 8, 2000 (AAP) - The elderly and disabled use new technologies least, even though they could benefit most from them, a new report has found.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams today tabled in parliament a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) report which found new technology could bring huge advantages to the elderly and disabled if access problems were removed.

The report into new service and information technologies said the main barriers to using the Internet and other electronic services for the disabled and elderly were cost, limited access, concerns about privacy and security, and no human touch.

Complex graphics could also be a problem for the visually impaired, while phone services relying on button pushing present a problem for people with poor eyesight or memory difficulties.

"(But) use of digital technology has particular benefits for many people with disabilities and older people in providing access to information and services in formats and locations which they can use, which previously have been difficult or impossible for them to have access to," the report said.

To overcome these difficulties, the report recommended:

* ensuring electronic services complemented rather than replaced human contact;

* ensuring providers were aware of problems faced by the disabled and elderly;

* more equipment targeted at the disabled and aged, with software tailored to their needs;

* more accessible equipment, such as ATM machines.

HREOC's report has been welcomed by the government and business, with Mr Williams saying it is vital people who find it difficult to access technology are not shut out of the digital age.

"I have asked my department to look at implementing the Commission's recommendation to donate superseded computer equipment to appropriate recipients," he said in a statement.

The Australian Bankers' Association (ABA) volunteered to join the federal government in a broad-based discussion group on the subject, while Tax Commissioner Michael Carmody affirmed his commitment to improved information delivery.

The report found while disabled people were familiar with technology, older Australians were well behind the rest of the community when it came to electronic services.

In the 12 months to November 1999, just 16 per cent of Australians aged 55 and over used the Internet, compared with 73 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds.

Telephone banking and bill payment was used by 26 per cent of people aged over 55, compared with 52 per cent of people age 25 to 39.

Focus groups said older people do not see enough benefit in new technologies to invest effort in using them, even though they could make for easier access to services.

And while disabled people were much more informed, they faced problems with physical and financial accessibility.

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June 8, 2000, Thursday.

SECTION: Nationwide General News; Federal Parliament.