Are Australians with Impairments an iBurden?

Ten years ago, the Australian Government estimated that one in five Australians are living with an impairment. Since then, the world has witnessed rapid development in technologies that have the potential to cease exclusion for our impaired community members. Thought shockingly, disability remains an afterthought so often associated with charity and burden. Gerard Gogin of the University of Sydney askes, ‘If we are now possessed of greater knowledge about disability and design, why is accessible and inclusive technology so difficult to bring about?’. The UN Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities (2006) promotes access to technology for all users, including those with impairments. A year after this convention, the first Apple iPhone was released, and as a completely touch-screen device with no raised buttons, voice activated commands or alternate pointing devices, and was rendered almost completely inaccessible for those with vision impairment. It was a sad example of people with impairments being completely built out of a technology. The good news is, that now things are changing, and members from the blind community are touting current versions of the iPhone as ‘amazing’ and ‘life changing’, with accessibility being consciously built back into the phone, as well as taking things further with apps that can even identify colors, and read their descriptions aloud. Though, according to Goggin, Australians with impairments are still underrepresented in the take-up and use of mobile technologies, and people with disabilities continue to feel excluded. Recently, Apple’s main competitor, Samsung, attempted to have Apples Voice-over function removed from all its phones, claiming it to be a patent infringement, a decision that would leave thousands of blind iPhone users unable to use their phones anymore. This is an example that illustrates clearly how attempts for accessibility seem more closely linked with profit and PR than genuine concern to include the perspectives of people with impairments into design. Though here in Australia, there is reason to celebrate, our lead telecommunications brand Telstra have long focused on technologies allowing access to all users, and the ACIF has established a Disability Advisory Body in which people with impairments serve as experts in the development of Australian communication systems. Clearly, the technologies exist to create such accessibility, it is simply a case of a shift in the way we think, from considering those with impairments as integral to the development of software, as opposed to an extra audience to cater for down the road.

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