Access to the internet is something most of us now take for granted and couldn’t imagine living without, but for one million Aussies with a disability that’s exactly what they have to do. For many, they think it will cost too much, especially to buy the kind of software they need to help them use it, for others, it’s just all too hard. Laura Corrigan reports.
Laura: Dr Scott Hollier is director of Digital Accessibility for advocacy group Media Access Australia.
Scott: Internet websites and apps and social media content aren’t designed in a way that effectively supports people with disabilities. In order for a person with a disability to effectively get access, two things have to happen. One is that the person with a disability has to have the tools they need on their particular device or computer, and the other is that those websites or apps have to be designed in a particular way. Now what’s encouraging, and I think a big part of why more people with disabilities are getting access than say 10 years ago is because when we buy a device, let’s say an Android phone or an iPad or Windows, a lot of those devices today now have accessibility features built in, which they didn’t have 10 years ago. So this is a great step forward. But now our attention turns to the need to make the web and apps compatible with those tools, and that’s really the big issue now.
Laura: Is it the case that people who could have access to the internet have opted out of it because it was too hard?
Scott: When I did my research it was interesting to find that people with disabilities do struggle when it comes to getting access to the web and getting access to apps because of these accessibility challenges and how those things are designed. But rather than opting out, it’s more a case that they come across these barriers and they will keep trying and keep trying to get through those barriers until they’re successful. So the reason why people with disabilities aren’t getting the same access as the general population isn’t so much because of the choice not to participate, but more because those barriers are preventing participation. But I think something we can take from that that’s encouraging is that if we do address these barriers then the floodgates open and ultimately people with disabilities will get the access they need.
Laura: Access to the internet isn’t just about these issues for some people with disabilities, it’s simply that they’re older and like many older Australians the internet is not part of their way of life. Others don’t think they can afford the access and software they need to use the internet, but Scott Hollier from Media Access Australia says it’s not as expensive as people think.
Scott: I think people still often assume that in order to have access to a device you have to spend thousands of dollars, as it used to be. So I think the real affordability issue is the awareness that current products do have accessibility built into them.
Laura: Scott Hollier, who’s legally blind, says internet access is important for everyone, but for people with a disability it’s especially important because it gives them more independence.
Scott: To use myself as an example, when I was studying at university in the 1990s if I wanted to get access to a text book I’d need help. I’d need help to get to the library on campus, I’d need help for that book to be converted into large print or audio. It would take a lot of time, it would require a lot of staff and ultimately half the semester would be gone by the time those processes could be addressed. And that’s a common problem. But the great thing about access to the web is that with the right technology on my computer I can independently access that information and I really can’t stress the word independence enough.
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