Consultation on communications access

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Wednesday, 30 March 2016 11:36am

The inclusion of accessibility features in many mainstream smartphones and tablets is a potential game changer in the delivery of special services for Deaf and hearing impaired people, according to the Department of Communications.

Woman using a smartphone

In a just-released consultation paper on ‘Communications Accessibility: 2016 and beyond' the Department is reviewing both the role of the National Relay Service and issues around options for providing accessible services to Deaf and hearing impaired people.

The National Relay Service helps communication between hearing/speech impaired people and the rest of the community by using relay operators to manage the communication between the disabled person and the other party. Developments in mainstream technology, particularly smartphones, offer a range of accessibility features that can be used as a substitute for some of the services offered by the National Relay Service. For example, one service is SMS relay and mainstream platforms like Facebook Messenger, email, iMessage, Twitter DM and SMS can potentially replace that.

The consultation paper also recognises that there is a need for promotion and education of mainstream accessibility as many people with disabilities are not aware or do not know how to use these services.

Media Access Australia provides a wide range of resources and information about the accessibility of mainstream mobile technology and accessible social media. However, CEO Alex Varley sees a continuing role for specialist support, such as the National Relay Service and other programs.

“The disability market is growing with the ageing population, and the growth of mainstream accessibility is essential to help meet those needs, particularly for those who have specific issues that technology can deal with. There is still an ongoing need for more specialist services, reflecting the more complex needs of some people with disabilities.”

Submissions can be made to the Department in writing up until 6 May 2016.

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