ACCAN, Lundy call for tech accessibility law

"We know that it’s not going to happen by magic,” says ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

Senator Kate Lundy supports legislation requiring minimum accessibility standards for content and communications services.

The law, modeled after the US’s 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, was proposed by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) this morning at the M-Enabling Australasia conference in Sydney.

“If we require legislation to give effect to the accessibility principles ... then yes we would do it,” said Lundy, who serves as minister assisting for the digital economy under the Rudd Labor government.

“It would be my pleasure to work with ACCAN to look at that legislation.”

Lundy said there are “a number of challenges” to making communications accessible. “In particular, some of the people who potentially benefit most from mobile technologies are the ones who currently use it least.”

ACCAN CEO Tersa Corbin said the legislation would require all TV programming streamed online or on digital video-on-demand services like iTunes to include captions for the hearing impaired. In addition, it would require VoIP services to be accessible to people of all abilities, provide access to telecom equipment for deafblind Australians and guarantee that broadcasters’ emergency messages are accessible with AUSLAN interpreters and captioning.

Passing such a law in Australia will build “the next bridge in our inclusive future’s roadmap,” Corbin told the conference.

“Now is the right time to act, because ultimately what we want is to remove any barriers to full participation,” Corbin said. “But we know that it’s not going to happen by magic.”

Corbin also said that it’s time to do away with CAPTCHA authentication on websites. She said the system, whereby users must retype a distorted word displayed on the screen, is not accessible to people who are blind or have visual impairments.

“CAPTCHA tests prevent them from engaging on the web and accessing online government services because they can’t be read by screen-reading software,” she said.

Audio CAPTCHA, which adds a method to listen to the CAPTCHA code, has not solved the problem, she said. “These have been almost as inaccessible as visual CAPTCHA.”

A more accessible approach to authentication is to use email activation links, she said. “It’s time to kill CAPTCHA, once and for all.”

Telstra believes it’s important for all Australians to have access to the social and economic benefits of being connected, Telstra general manager for digital inclusion, Jill Risely, told the conference. The telco is exploring ways to improve speech and gesture recognition and make use of bio-sensor technologies, she said.

“We know over 4 million people in Australia are living with disabilities,” she said. “Technology is a real game changer in terms of their interaction with the world.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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