Recent 2021 Census the most accessible survey for deaf and blind people

Posted 2 years ago by Liz Alderslade
The upgrades to the Census website allowed users to listen to questions and access audio files that provided further explanations and guidance. [Source: Shutterstock]
The upgrades to the Census website allowed users to listen to questions and access audio files that provided further explanations and guidance. [Source: Shutterstock]

The recent National Census was the most accessible and inclusive survey yet, with the 2021 survey being easily used by people who are blind or deaf, said the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

This year’s National Census was held on Tuesday 10 August, with extra resources and support available for people who are vision-impaired or hard of hearing.

A range of assistive technologies on the Census website offered extra support and resources for people who are deaf or vision-impaired and wanted to submit their forms online without requiring additional help. 

Census Executive Director and National Spokesperson, Andrew Henderson, says the point of the Census is to make it as easy as possible to complete for the most number of people.  

“We have developed a range of help and support options, so everyone can play their part in helping paint a picture of the economic, social, and cultural make-up of Australia,” says Mr Henderson. 

“Information about the Census will be provided in different ways, including in Braille, large print formats, audio, Auslan videos with closed captions and easy-to-read guides.”

People were able to complete the Census online, on their mobile device or on paper.

A number of options were available for people who needed assistance to complete their Census form including help from Census staff, and phone and online help.

Melbourne man Chris Edwards is blind and an advocate for the blind and vision-impaired community.

Speaking to SBS News, Mr Edwards says while millions of Australians are able to take advantage of the flexibility of online platforms, it was more challenging for others who were vision-impaired as there simply wasn’t enough resources to cater for their needs in the past. 

“Accessible information is so important for people with low vision and when it doesn’t happen it’s so frustrating and it’s tiring because it feels like you don’t have a voice,” Mr Edwards says.

Having advised the ABS on the 2021 Census rollout, Mr Edwards says the ABS had done an “amazing job” and users would have had a far better experience filling out this latest survey.   

“Some of the key features that make it easier for people who are blind like me is having information in large print,” Mr Edwards says.

“By ensuring all their formats are accessible means that me and other people who are blind and have low vision can participate just like everybody else.”

The upgrades to the Census website allowed users to listen to questions and access audio files that provided further explanations and guidance.

For people who are blind or have low vision, the online form was compatible with screen readers. It was also possible to request a Braille or large print copy via the Census website or by calling a 24-hour automated phone service. 

Major health and disability service providers, such as Vision Australia, are relying on the data gathered from this year’s Census to decide how best to allocate their services in the future. 

“We’re proud to have worked closely with the ABS to ensure the blind and low vision community have access to Census materials in their format of choice and are able to participate in a vital activity,” says Vision Australia CEO Ron Hooton.

The upgrades to the 2021 Census website meet the Australian Government’s web accessibility requirements and earned the ABS an AA rating with World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Both the website and online forms were designed to allow for the use of a host of assistive technologies. 

Audio assistance of both the form and the guide was also available online.

Gavin Balharrie, Expression Australia’s President, who is deaf himself, described the ABS’ system as “world-class” and says it raised the standard for organisations and how they cater for people’s needs. 

“Expression Australia, one of the peak bodies for the Deaf and hard of hearing community, has welcomed changes by the ABS to ensure the Census is accessible for all,” Mr Balharrie says. 

“Auslan is the first and sometimes the only language used and understood by members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community. 

“To have this recognised and included in the Census is a seismic shift towards greater inclusion and is invaluable for future planning of services and support.”

There were 66 Australian Sign Language (Auslan) video guides including an introduction to the Census and assistance for each question on the paper form. 

All video content included closed captioning and transcripts and the website also included a link to the National Relay Service (NRS) to receive assistance. An easy read Census fact sheet was also available for those who needed it.

The Census is a snapshot of Australia and informs the Government, community and business about our way of life and how it is changing. It is one of the largest and most important statistical collections undertaken by the ABS.

People across Australia were encouraged to check their letterboxes for instructions from the ABS on how to complete the Census.

More information about the 2021 Census is available at