COVID-19 tracing app needs to be accessible for people with disability

Tags Accessibility

Posted 2 years ago by Rebecca St Clair

There have been some early concerns​ about the privacy of the COVIDSafe app and how long the data is stored and who will have access to the information.  (Source: Shutterstock)
There have been some early concerns​ about the privacy of the COVIDSafe app and how long the data is stored and who will have access to the information. (Source: Shutterstock)

Australians across the country are being encouraged to download an app to their smartphones to help trace the spread of COVID-19, however the accessibility of the app and unreliable internet access to download could be an issue for people with disability.

What is COVIDSafe?

COVIDSafe has been launched by the Australian Government to help understand and trace the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia. 

When COVIDSafe is installed and Bluetooth sharing is turned on, it is able to recognise other devices that have the app installed. When the app recognises another user, it notes the date, time, distance and duration of the contact and a unique reference code. 

It is free to download the app from the Apple and Google app stores and allows State and Territory health officials to contact and trace people who may have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

When someone is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 State and Territory health officials are able to use the data stored by the app to speed up the current manual process of finding people who have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 and informing them about testing, symptoms and preventing further exposure to others. 

Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt explains “The CovidSafe app is about assisting, finding those cases which might be undiagnosed in the community, helping people get earlier treatment, helping people to have an earlier diagnosis, and to ensure that our doctors and nurses, our health workers, our families and our friends are protected - and that will save lives and protect lives.”

Jeff Smith, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of People With Disabilities Australia (PWDA), says that the voluntary download of the COVIDSafe app is welcome as it allows people with disability not to be discriminated against. 

“We note the release of the COVIDSafe contact tracing app by the Australian Government. We are pleased to see that people, including people with disability, will not be discriminated against if they choose not to use the app. 

“We understand that this commitment will initially be through regulation, and then enshrined under legislation, and we welcome this additional and crucial protection.”

There have been some early concerns about the privacy of the COVIDSafe app and how long the data is stored and who will have access to the information. 

When downloading the app, people are asked to provide personal information including name, age range, phone number and postcode, with no Commonwealth department or agency having access to the data. 

If somebody does test positive and they have the COVIDSafe app installed they will need to give their permission so that the encrypted contact information stored by the app can be uploaded to a secure information storage system for state and territory health officials to use for tracing. 

According to the Department of Health, the data stored by the app is deleted on a 21-day rolling cycle which takes into account the COVID-19 incubation period and the time it takes to get tested.

Mr Smith says that PWDA will monitor accessibility issues but just being able to access the technology to download the app is an issue for some people with disability. 

“PWDA has raised concerns that too many people with disability do not have access to a smartphone or reliable internet access, and join with other organisations in the No Australian Left Offline campaign. We will continue to monitor any accessibility issues with the app.”

Accessibility for people with disability

Along with concerns about privacy, when the app was launched, there are also concerns that people with disability will not be able to access the application designed to keep Australians safe. 

Brett Casey, CEO of Deaf Services and the Deaf Society says that the issue for some people with disability is that they have been excluded from information about COVIDSafe.

“The operation of the app itself is simple, and does not significantly impact the Deaf and hard of hearing community over and above hearing people, however the community has largely been omitted from the dialogue about the app’s purpose, how to access and operate it and the information explaining the ways in which it tracks and shares information.

“For many members of the Deaf community English is their second language, with Auslan being their first. When it comes to the operation of new technology, particularly with the importance of the COVID-19 tracing app, this information should be presented in English and Auslan simultaneously.”

During the development of the COVIDSafe app, considerations were made for people with disability, says an Australian Government spokesperson. 

“When developing the app, special considerations were made for people with visual impairments or hearing difficulties, as well as people who are culturally and linguistically diverse. 

“The app has been tested against colour contrast standards, text size, alt text for images and using screen readers to check voice-prompted interactions for visually impaired people. Simplified language was also used to make the content as easy as possible to understand.”

Although considerations have been made when designing the app, and the majority of people have been able to successfully download and use COVIDSafe, there have been some initial accessibility issues for users. 

Kathie Elliot, a spokesperson for Blind Citizens Australia, says, “There are some accessibility issues, particularly with the IOS (Apple) app. However, we are collating and providing feedback directly to the Department of Health and are hopeful they will be resolved quickly. “

Downloading COVIDSafe

To download the COVIDSafe app you will need an Apple or Android compatible device which includes iPhones, iPads, Samsung and Google phones and tablets. 

You’ll need to visit the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and search for  COVIDSafe, it should be the first search result.

When downloading the app make sure it is the one that has been created by the Department of Health. The icon should have a green background and an outline of Australia with a tick through it. 

Once downloaded follow the prompts to set up your app, this is where you will need to provide your information.

When the app is successfully set up you will receive a confirmation text message. The system then creates a unique encrypted reference code which is stored on the app and is passed to other devices. 

For more information about COVIDSafe or to report any issues, visit the Department of Health website. 

What do you think of the COVIDSafe App? Tell us in the comments below or send us an email at [email protected]