Accessible communications: tapping the potential in public ICT procurement policy
Australia has a history of early adoption for all things digital. While information and communications technologies continue to advance in ever-shortening development cycles, advances in technologies that are usable and accessible by people with disabilities struggle to keep up. This University of Wollongong research project, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), explores how government procurement policy can have positive implications for many consumers with disability; providing greater access to the digital economy of the 21st Century. ACCAN is pleased to be associated with this research; it is an area that our members identified early on as being key in the improvement of access and participation in technology for Australians with disability. In 2009, ACCAN's Gov 2.0 Roundtable highlighted public procurement of accessible ICT as being the cornerstone of social inclusion in the Government's Gov 2.0 strategy. This research project provides part of the evidence base that has been lacking in the policy arena; delivering the foundation and resource for strategic change in public procurement across all levels of government. While much of the research utilises international examples of government best practice, there is no better demonstration of the power the public purse wields in its market influence than our own Government's provision of the 'talking' set-top box. As Australia began switching from analog to digital only television in 2010, many Australians who are blind or vision-impaired were no longer able to independently operate their television. On-screen menus, program guides and increasing numbers of channels require visual navigation. The solution to this inaccessibility is digital televisions or digital set-top boxes with audio-enabled navigation. While 'talking' set-top boxes were available in overseas markets, Australian manufacturers were reluctant to introduce these products in Australia. In a market without usable and accessible digital set-top boxes, a significant number of Australians were at risk of being left without access to our foremost medium for news, information and entertainment as we switched to digital broadcasting. The Australian Government's Digital Switchover Taskforce oversees the transition from analog to digital broadcasting. To ensure that vulnerable households have the assistance they need, the Household Assistance Scheme (HAS) provides a range of services including set-top boxes to eligible households. In order to provide equity of access to all eligible households the HAS, in 2011, commissioned a trial of 'talking' set-top boxes for eligible Australians who are blind or vision-impaired. The HAS trial required Australian manufacturers to provide these talking set-top boxes as part of their contract. As a result of the trial's success all eligible HAS participants who are blind or vision-impaired will receive these fully accessible 'talking' set-top boxes. The roll-on effect of this Government funded initiative is that two Australian manufacturers of digital set-top boxes now offer commercially available 'talking' set-top boxes in the wider Australian market. This case study re-emphasises the importance of this research report and related Advocacy Toolkit. Both identify the vital role public procurement of accessible ICT can play in the expanding availability of accessible devices. Accessible ICT increases employment opportunities,
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