IT ‘Australia Tax’ Hits People with Disability Hardest
30 July 2013 at 10:14 am
The Not for Profit Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has urged both sides of Federal politics to commit to a whole-of-government accessible IT procurement policy to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
ACCAN says that among multiple recommendations in the final report of the IT pricing inquiry aimed at reducing the so-called “Australia Tax” applied to technology products sold in Australia, the Parliamentary Committee acknowledged that the higher prices can leave people with disability disproportionately worse off.
“This is because people with disability are often in the lower income brackets and rely on specialised technology for communication, inclusion and independence,” ACCAN said.
“About one in five Australians have some form of permanent disability but many apps, gadgets and websites are not accessible, meaning millions are potentially missing out on the digital revolution,”ACCAN disability policy advisor Wayne Hawkins said.
“The committee also acknowledged that many IT products, hardware and software designed for people with disability are expensive and often cost significantly more in Australia than overseas. These products include optical character recognition software used to scan printed material, screen readers that provide speech or Braille output, magnification software to enlarge text, adapted keyboards, onscreen keyboards and voice recognition software.
“For example, it says the JAWS screen reading software is available in the US for $1095 and for $1420 in Australia.”
ACCAN argued in its submission to the IT pricing inquiry that Australia lags behind many OECD countries, which have included IT accessibility criteria in their public procurement regimes.
“ACCAN believes the government should implement a whole-of-government accessible IT procurement policy as it would help drive down the exorbitant prices currently paid by people with disability for IT products and significantly increase the employment opportunities for people with disability,” Hawkins said.
“In the US, an accessible IT procurement policy has already led to an increase in availability and lower prices for accessible IT products.
“As one of the largest buyers of ICT, the government has the purchasing power to stimulate the market to give us a greater choice of accessible products and services.
“If, as part of the tender process, governments explicitly say they wanted to buy ICT that is accessible for people with disability, companies will try harder to include those features when designing and developing new products.
“The lack of a comprehensive public procurement policy for accessible IT undermines Australia’s commitment to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” Hawkins said.
Last week Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy, Kate Lundy, said the government remained committed under its Digital First policy to delivering the majority of government services online, including via smartphones and tablets, by December 2017.
ACCAN says this must include accessibility requirements from the outset.
During the switchover from analogue to digital TV, the government required accessibility to be included in set-top boxes in its Household Assistance Scheme. As a result of this requirement, ACAN says two Australian manufacturers have included accessibility in their set top boxes whereas previously there were no Australian manufacturers making them.