Disability groups call for accessible ICT in public service workplaces

By The Mandarin

Thursday June 7, 2018

Representatives from six of the disability organisations that signed the joint statement. Image: Vision Australia.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has pledged to promote and monitor accessibility guidelines, after 25 disability groups jointly called for the procurement of accessible information and communications technology (ICT) in the Australian Public Service.

Led by Vision Australia, a joint statement was delivered to key officials recently, signed by disability advocacy organisations including the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, National Disability Services and the Tipping Foundation.

The statement details how procuring accessible ICT can help increase the disability employment rate within the APS, and urges for the Australian Standard on ICT accessibility to be enforced, promoted and monitored within the APS.

Vision Australia general manager of advocacy and engagement Karen Knight, said a large proportion of people with disability were excluded from employment opportunities in many Australian workplaces due to a lack of accessible ICT.

“While all employers should strive for accessible workplaces, public agencies and departments have an obligation to lead the way in digital inclusion,” Knight said.

“We know that this simple yet effective change in procurement could see an increase in people with disability being employed in the APS.”

Vision Australia said they had met with the Australian government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) and have begun “encouraging conversations” about the need for accessible ICT in APS workplaces.

“We are hopeful that the initial discussions with key officials will lead to substantive action and help educate procurement officers in the practical application for acquiring accessible ICT. This will, in turn, increase the diversity within public services across the country,” Knight said.

“Inaccessible ICT is one of the key factors contributing to the under-representation of people with disability in the APS workforce but this could change if the standard was widely promoted and closely monitored.

“While we look forward to continuing discussions with the DTA, we are mindful that the work toward equal access to employment in Australia will take both hard work and ongoing commitment from both disability groups and decision makers.”

Vision Australia manager for government relations and advocacy, Chris Edwards, told Pro Bono News that accessible ICT was vital in allowing people with disability to work effectively.

“I’m a person who is blind myself, and I can be a very effective staff member and contributor to the workplace. But the reason why I can do that is simply because I have technologies that can help me do my day-to-day work,” Edwards said.

“And so whether that’s reading a report, preparing a document or simply just answering emails and looking at budgets, all of those sorts of things have to be accessible.

“Without that… I have no effective reading or writing tool. And that really limits my capacity to be able to do my job effectively. So having accessible technology is the only way that people who are blind and low-vision and people with other disabilities can contribute in the workplace.”

Vision 2020 Australia has recently urged the federal government to implement a disability employment target of 7 per cent for the APS by 2023.

Edwards said Vision Australia supported employment targets to get more people with disability working in the APS.

“We think that what you measure is what you get results in. And so having a target is important and just as important as that is having the right reporting mechanisms in place to ensure that it does happen,” he said.

“We need to work with government to ensure that they’ve got the right solutions to be able to achieve targets.

“And part of that is having the right ICT that’s accessible, so that people that come into the workplace can do their work effectively.”

The Australian Public Service Commission confirmed to Pro Bono News in March that the APS does not currently have mandated disability targets, and that as of June 2017, 3.6 per cent of APS employees identified as having a disability.

Edwards said in order to improve these figures, practical steps needed to be taken to ensure accessible ICT was available.

“It’s one thing to have the rules in place to ensure that the procurement is mandated and another to do it. The next aspect is that we work to ensure that the practical steps are in place and we’re able to report on the success of it or not,” he said.

“And so I think with the DTA, the early discussions are very positive in working with the sector and I think that that strong sector alliance has been really positive to get them interested.

“We’re very keen and the DTA are very keen to sort out a pathway to turn that into some clear actionable steps, but exactly what that looks like we will now need to work out.”

Top image: Representatives from six of the disability organisations that signed the joint statement. Credit: Vision Australia. This article was first published by Pro Bono Australia.

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