Access and rights for people with vision impairment

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A recent complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission has brought up the issue of Government processes not always being accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired.

Key points

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission has received complaints over the accessibility of voting for people who are blind or vision impaired
  • There are various Government processes that are not accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired
  • Blind Citizens Australia can provide assistance to people who are blind or vision impaired to access services

Blind Citizens Australia made the complaint over the removal of New South Wales’ iVote platform, which allowed people with vision impairment to exercise their right to a secret vote.

Voting is not always accessible to people with vision impairment yet is an important right to be protected in Australia.

And there are many other Government processes that aren’t always accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired. So what issues may you face when accessing Government systems?

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Blind Citizens Australia, Sally Aurisch, has answered some questions on the accessibility of Government systems for people who are blind or vision impaired.

Question: What’s the state of accessibility of Government systems for people who are blind or vision impaired?

Answer: It does vary greatly from department to department. So there are some things that certainly are accessible and there’s multiple ways to complete required forms or paperwork or provide information and then there’s others that are much more challenging.

Any of the forms that use things like a captcha, where you have to identify that you’re not a robot, or you have to select a bunch of pictures they are exceptionally challenging or completely inaccessible depending on how they’re set up. A lot of the PDF documents that Government departments send, or if they will only send information to you in print, also make processes inaccessible.

With some of the services now that require you to take a picture of yourself, that can also be a very challenging thing to do if you can’t see where you’re positioned on the screen.

Q: What about accessibility online?

A: A lot of the websites these days do have a good base level of accessibility but often there are little things that we notice that could make [websites] more functional and easier to access.

Often we see with apps that when organisations make an initial update to something sometimes some of the accessibility functions and features are lost. Generally with a call and some notifications and letting people know, they are quite happy to bring them back, however, it would be good for that not to happen in the first place.

Q: How do the different levels of accessibility affect people’s rights?

A: The ability to access information and services is a basic human right and that is also covered under things like the [United Nations] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.

There are pathways that people can follow if they would like to make complaints, however they can be very burdensome on the individual. They can take a toll emotionally, on one’s mental health, on one’s time, it’s not ideal to have to go down that path.

It would be fantastic to see a really high level of accessibility and functionality in all of our Government services and everything they provide in terms of information, so that we didn’t have to go down that path.

Q: What tips do you have for people who are blind or vision impaired and struggling with access?

A: As an organisation that supports people who are blind or vision impaired throughout Australia, we are certainly more than happy to support people if they do find that they are having trouble accessing those particular websites or services, with our individual advocacy services or perhaps some support to self advocate.

You can either call on 1800 063 660 or email [email protected].

Q: What systemic issues are you working on as an organisation to change?

A: Previously we have done a lot of work with the National Disability Insurance Agency [NDIA] to ensure people have access to information in their preferred format. So that they didn’t just receive their plan or their letters posted to them.

We do a lot of work with all organisations to make sure their information is accessible to people.

We’re also working around iVote in New South Wales that was the secret, independent and verifiable voting platform that was unfortunately decommissioned in March this year. So we’re working with the Australian Human Rights Commission and the New South Wales Electoral Commission to make sure there are secret, independent and verifiable ways to vote for people who are blind or vision impaired in the future.

The voting systems vary greatly from State to State as there’s a different piece of electoral legislation that covers each State, plus a piece that covers Federal voting.

So we see in some States their acts do have the provision to bring in telephone voting or computed assisted, technology assisted voting, other States don’t have the provision that allows for that.

New South Wales previously had what was referred to as the gold standard of voting, which was iVote and ideally we would like to see that rolled out across all States and for Federal Elections also.

What else would you like to know about accessibility for people with a vision impairment? Tell us in the comments below.

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