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Media Release

8 June 2000

 The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission today released its report Accessibility of electronic commerce and new service and information technologies for older Australians and people with a disability.


Commission President Professor Alice Tay and Deputy Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes produced the report following a reference from Commonwealth Attorney General, Daryl Williams, last year.


"New technology and e-commerce are already benefiting older Australians and people with a disability, and have enormous potential to do more,’’ Mr Innes said. "The digital divide can continue to be narrowed, helped along by the efforts of government, business and community groups."


The report welcomes advances made by internet service providers, banks and the Federal Government in combating the serious problems faced by older Australians and people with a disability.


These problems are common to services provided by many industries including government, financial services, retailers, communications companies and web service providers. The report found that some older people and people with disabilities face a number of problems in using financial services in bill-paying and phone-based facilities as well as significant barriers to accessing the world-wide web.


For example, web-sites that rely heavily on graphics and do not have a text-only option make it extremely difficult for vision-impaired people to navigate sites. The failure to standardise telephone services that rely on button pushing put people with poor eyesight or memory impairment at a disadvantage. Many older Australians and people with a motor disability find it difficult to use the older style touch-sensitive keypads still in use in some EFTPOS machines.


Recent statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics highlight the digital divide, but do indicate the gap is narrowing in some areas of the financial and retail services.

Today, 78 per cent of 18-24 year olds use EFTPOS machines compared with 23 per cent of people 65 and over. The use of ATM’s by over 55s has increased from 35.2 per cent in the November quarter in 1998 to 43.8 per cent in the same period in 1999. The rapidly increasing use of internet services by younger people is not however mirrored in the over 55s.


The report noted that "For some people with disabilities, these systems are experienced as a great advance in access to information and services. The self service model cannot be expected to suit all users, and may present serious access barriers to some people with disabilities, but for other people availability of this model represents independence and equality."


In conducting research for the Inquiry the Commission consulted with a number of key e-commerce service providers including the internet and banking industries and with peak disability and older persons’ groups including Blind Citizens Australia, the Physical Disability Coalition of Australia and aged person’s groups.


A major outcome of both the report and the process of consultation will be the establishment of a Working Group to review the Inquiry’s recommendations and to consider ways in which issues can be addressed constructively on a community-wide basis.


The working group will include representatives of peak disability and aged person’s organisations, financial services and internet providers as well as retailers and property owners. The Commission will be recommending to government that relevant government departments and agencies become involved in the Working Group.


The Commission welcomes this community-wide approach initiated in part by the Australian Bankers’ Association which has already set up its own internal working group to further progress these issues.


The Commission is also pleased to report that the Internet Industry Association plans to run an awareness campaign among members to promote better access to web-sites and Internet-based services.


Media contact: Janine MacDonald on (02) 9284 9880 or 0412 783 631.

Copies of the report are available at http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/ecomrep.htm




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