Key concerns and ongoing accessibility issues
Evidence to the inquiry shows that many of the same accessibility
concerns raised in the first Shut Out report still exist. While there is
positivity about the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 (Disability
in general, there are ongoing concerns with progress across a wide range of
areas of access and types of disability. This chapter will highlight the key
concerns raised in submissions and during hearings regarding accessibility
issues that have continued since the implementation of the Disability Strategy.
What are the main concerns with the Disability Strategy?
Broadly speaking, a lot of the criticisms of the progress of the Disability
Strategy relating to inclusive and accessible communities received during this
inquiry fell into consistent themes of consultation, coordination, and a lack
of commitment leading to a lack of progress on implementation.
A great deal of evidence pointed to a lack of ongoing consultation with
people with disability resulting in outcomes that were ineffective in resolving
barriers to accessibility. Other evidence pointed to a lack of proactive
coordination across a range of policy areas, meaning outcomes were
significantly delayed and in some cases no concrete progress was seen to be
made at all. These two issues are discussed later in this chapter.
Beyond these themes, many submitters and witnesses provided specific
examples of ongoing accessibility concerns across various parts of the physical
environment, such as the built environment, housing, transport and
communication, and for groups with particular needs, such as Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples. These issues were presented to the inquiry as
examples of a lack of progress under the Disability Strategy.
Accessing the built environment and housing
A major factor in creating accessible and inclusive communities is
ensuring people with disability can access the built environment and
appropriate housing. For example, a fully accessible built environment improves
capacity for social inclusion, while appropriate housing and
its distribution for people with disability can avoid concentrated areas of
disadvantage and also promote inclusive communities.
The Centre for Applied Social Research made the point that improvement
in accessibility of built environment would result in reduction in need for
formal or paid support for many people with disability. However, since the
introduction of the Disability Strategy, a significant proportion of the
existing built environment remains inaccessible.
The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) noted that there is no effective
legal mechanism to drive comprehensive improvements to access to the built
environment, especially in existing buildings. This is because the current Disability
Discrimination Act 1992 (Disability Discrimination Act) relies on
people with disability making individual complaints which can be onerous,
expensive and can only be enforced in a superior court.
In her evidence to the committee, Ms Libby Callaway, a Senior Lecturer in
the Department of Occupational Therapy at Monash University, identified three
key barriers to people with disability being able to access housing: limited,
well-located stock, low affordability and a lack of physical access.
Other submitters explained that lack of accessibility in housing increases
social exclusion of people with disability,
and furthermore there is a 'very serious lack' of accessible housing in
regional and remote Australia.
There is also a chronic shortage of well-located, affordable housing for
people with disability with high and complex needs.
The NDIS targets six per cent of people with disability with highly specialised
housing needs under its Specialised Disability Accommodation program, but unless
there is action on the other 94 per cent, then people with disability will
continue to be stuck in hospital beds or entering aged care as young people.
Additionally where providers do wish to provide Specialised Disability
Accommodation, there are barriers in accessing accreditation and funding.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) and Rights
and Inclusion Australia (RIA) have expressed concern that there is an
expectation from governments that private industry is responsible for
addressing discrimination, which relies on the 'good will' of the industry to
provide appropriate housing. ANUHD and RIA pointed to a number of factors that
contribute to the reluctance of private housing developers to build accessible
housing: the housing industry wants more reliable buyer demand than the
disability sector provides; there is a lack of immediate financial incentives
for building accessible housing; the structure of the volume building sector
means changes to designs to accommodate accessibility increases building costs
too much; and there are still assumptions that people with disability live in
facilities or congregate housing and do not live in the community.
Submitters raised concerns about limited opportunities for people with
disability to participate in the mainstream housing market because of their low
rates of employment and therefore limited purchasing power. Rentals are often
inaccessible due to costs and physical characteristics of housing stock.
The committee also received evidence from the Physical Disability Council of
NSW that where NDIS home modifications are available, they are not effective
due to rental instability and the requirement for tenants to restore property
to original condition.
The Monash University Departments of Occupational Therapy and
Architecture indicated that integrated technologies in the built environment,
such as home automation, could hold significant benefits in allowing people
with disability to live independently. However, consideration needs to be made
to ensure buildings have the necessary access to communications systems and
electricity infrastructure, including back-up solutions.
Standards and legislation for the
The Australian Blindness Forum suggested that the Disability Strategy
has not delivered any outcomes in relation to improving accessibility in the
built environment due to long and protracted reviews of national standards.
The Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010, made
under the Disability Discrimination Act, came into effect on 1 May 2011 and are
subject to five-yearly review. However, some groups believe that these
standards are not high enough to provide true accessibility
and raised concerns that there is no coordinated mechanism for monitoring the
implementation of these standards.
The committee also received a large amount of evidence that there is an
emerging, strong view that mandatory
minimum accessibility standards should also be enacted into the Building Code
The Building Code of Australia, in conjunction with the Plumbing Code of
Australia, forms the National Construction Code issued by Australian Building
A new edition of the National Construction Code is due to be formalised
in 2019 and will take into account feedback from the review of the standards in
2015. However, witnesses told the committee that any changes to the code which
would introduce targets for private dwelling accessibility would not be
available until the 2022 edition.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science also explained to the
committee the relationship between the standards and the National Construction
Code and the roles of state/territory and federal governments in achieving
Schedule 1 of [the] standards, the access code, sets the
performance requirements and technical specification for which a building
certifier, building manager or building developer is required to avoid access
related discrimination. The access code is replicated in the National
Construction Code and enforced through state and territory building laws and
regulations. As you know, the states and territories have constitutional
responsibility and authority for building regulations, not [the] Commonwealth.
The Deafness Forum of Australia recommended in their submission that the
standards should specify a timeframe for all buildings to be compliant with the
However, the Association of Consultants in Access Australia was mindful that:
While the [Disability Discrimination Act] Premises Standards
does contain one small [requirement] for Affected Part upgrades of existing
building the provision is usually nullified by the Lessees Concession within
the same legislation.
This means many building upgrades do not need to meet accessibility
requirements of the standards.
The standards likewise do not address all of the built environment
concerns of people with disability: the Australian Blindness Forum observed
that the standards still lack 'wayfinding standards' for people with vision
while Amaze suggested to the committee that the standards should include signage
beyond toilets and exits.
Access to public facilities
Evidence provided to the committee shows that access to public buildings
and infrastructure remains ad hoc. While some excellent work is being done in
some local council areas, accessibility for people with more complex needs is
often not being achieved.
Inability Possability, a volunteer organisation focussed on the needs of
young people with acquired brain injury (ABI), submitted that most access to
public space is rated for people who have small wheel chairs and can
self-drive. Large power chairs used by young people with severe ABI require
more space through doorways and corridors and ramped access. Likewise, recreational spaces
such as restaurants rarely have accessible amenities.
In regions with improving levels of accessibility, evidence presented shows
that local governments appear to be leading the way in providing accessible
facilities in their communities, with many councils already in the second or
third iteration of disability and inclusion planning.
However, local governments, particularly in rural and regional areas,
often require state or federal government grants to fund accessible
infrastructure, particularly where existing structures are upgraded to meet
Furthermore, local governments need guidance about accessible
infrastructure beyond buildings, such as footpaths, playgrounds, and road
crossing, particularly for groups with specific needs.
Access to housing
Mr Fox from RIA explained that while there is legislation around
transport, communications, and public building access, there are no mandated national
access requirements for housing:
... housing accessibility is voluntary rather than mandatory,
and we believe this is, essentially, the final step in the comprehensive access
strategy that Australians are so proud of. We have achieved so much, but
housing is the missing link, in our opinion. Currently, there are no national
access requirements for housing. There are all sorts of different guidelines.
There is Australian standard 4299, which is called up by many local councils.
There is Livable Housing Australia, which is used for the voluntary code. There
is New South Wales SEPP 65. Many local governments around Australia have
developed control plans that vary—five per cent, 10 per cent, 15 per cent, 20
per cent. It is really all over the place, and the builders and developers we
speak to say that that is costing money because every development has to meet a
different set of requirements. Everyone has to go through the process—'Which
one do we apply this time?'.
The Livable Housing Initiative sets up voluntary Universal Access design
standards, however it is estimated that only five per cent of housing stock
will meet a standard by 2020. Compliance with the guidelines
has been low, due to their voluntary nature and despite agreement on
measurable targets in the guidelines in 2009, no reviews have been undertaken
to measure progress.
Witnesses told the committee that the aspirational target for all homes to meet
universally accessible design specifications by 2020 is unlikely to occur due
to the voluntary nature of the target and the number of compliant houses
currently being produced.
Universal Design and the built
While many submitters recommended Universal Design approaches to
housing, such as in the voluntary Liveable Housing Standards discussed above,
they also noted that universal design and built environment accessibility often
needs to go beyond access for people with physical impairments and should include
design for other issues such as hearing impairment, cognitive impairment,
psychosocial disability, or autism, which may take the form of acoustic
considerations, adjustable lighting, or use of particular colours.
Personalisation and customisation of spaces, even those built with universal
design in mind, is still essential to meet the needs of individuals.
It is important to note that the Disability Strategy embeds the concept
of Universal Design as an underlying approach that should inform solutions to
all types of accessibility issues, and is not constrained to being a design
approach only for the built environment. The following box explains the
Box 3.1 Universal design
The National Disability Strategy
and Universal Design
Taking a universal design approach to
programs, services and facilities is an effective way to remove barriers that
exclude people with disability. Universal design allows everyone, to the
greatest extent possible, and regardless of age or disability, to use
buildings, transport, products and services without the need for specialised or
Some examples of universal design
light switches that can be reached from standing and sitting positions
and which feature large flat panels instead of small toggle switches
a ramp that is incorporated into a building's main entrance
captions on all visual material such as DVDs, television programs and
The principles of universal design can
also be applied to the design of programs run by government, businesses and
non-government organisations. This results in greater efficiency by maximising
the number of people who can use and access a program without the need for
costly add-ons or specialised assistance.
Universal design assists everyone, not
just people with disability. For example, wider doorways are better for people
with prams, while decals on glass help to keep everyone safe. Providing
information in plain language can assist people who speak English as a second
language and people with poor literacy.
As the population ages, the incidence
of disability will increase, and universal design will become even more
Accessible transport is fundamental to the inclusion objectives of the
but remains a key problem for many people with disability. Many
submitters argued that providing accessible transport should go beyond
providing accessible buses and trains in accordance with the Transport
Standards, and include other considerations such as:
access at a wide range of times during the day;
access beyond major metropolitan areas;
attention to the needs of people with impairment issues such as
training for drivers and conductors on public transport who may
not be aware of the Transport Standards, or who refuse assistance dogs entry
onto public transport;
non-transport related infrastructure barriers which prevent
access to public transport such as lack of accessible pathways and kerbs;
ensuring options such as planes, long distance coaches and taxis
are also accessible to people with disability.
National Disability Services made the point that disability
organisations have been significant providers of transport for people with
severe disability in the past, but an unintended consequence of the rollout of
the Disability Strategy has been that an increasing number of them are
reviewing this provision as it is not financially viable under
The committee has been informed that people with disability are often
forced to shoulder the financial burden of inaccessible public transport by
using taxis or expensive private transport options.
The committee heard that changes to the mobility allowance under the NDIS
(discussed further in Chapter 4) have exacerbated this burden and reduced
access and utilisation.
This evidence also highlights that overall supplies of taxis have fallen, which
impacts numbers of wheelchair accessible taxis. There are further
concerns that the growth of the ridesharing platforms, such as Uber, may
threaten the ongoing viability of mobility taxis and further restrict the
availability of transport options for people with disabilities.
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) was
critical of inconsistency in the dimensions of public transport infrastructure
and vehicles across the country causing ongoing issues for people with physical
They also noted that 'assisted access' programs on public transport place a
burden on people with disability to use systems at designated places at
designated times and staff are often reluctant to provide necessary assistance.
Submitters told the committee that insufficient audible information
continues to cause problems for vision-impaired people when using public
They also recommended that transport help points should include dynamic real
time visual information, including captioning, for deaf people and noted there
is inconsistency in the availability of hearing loops in public transport
buildings and vehicles. Digital media
such as apps and SMS messaging to make transport accessible for these groups
does not help those who are not digitally literate or do not have access.
Standards and legislation for
The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 (Transport
Standards) seek to provide certainty to providers and operators of public
transport services and infrastructure about their responsibilities under the Disability
Discrimination Act. These standards are subject to a statutory five-yearly
The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development stated in
their submission that the Transport Standards continue to be effective in
bringing forward investment in accessible infrastructure and conveyances, and
in requiring governments, public transport operators and providers to plan and
implement upgrades to the conveyances and associated infrastructure they are
The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport commenced the second
statutory review of the Transport Standards in 2012, with the final report
produced in 2015. This review found that although the Transport Standards have generally
been effective in removing discrimination, they are not optimal in their
present form. The review also discovered that a number of parts of the
legislation, as well as the legislative guidelines, may need to be amended to
provide a more flexible response to cover the different modes of public
transport and the different environments in which public transport networks
operate across jurisdictions.
The second review also received submissions from local governments pointing out
that, while having the best intentions to ensure accessibility for people with
disability, especially through providing accessible bus stops, they bore a
large part of the burden of providing infrastructure with little or no
Submitters complained that while the Minister's five-yearly reviews
continue to make recommendations: the recommendations are not implemented or
there is no coordinated mechanism for monitoring the implementation of these
and there is a lack of enforcement of compliance with the standards.
The Disability Services Commissioner of Victoria recommended in his submission
to the committee that public transport should have mandated and enforceable
There are also gaps in accessibility related to specific exemptions to
the standards: for example, school buses are currently exempt from the Transport
Standards, with full compliance not due until 2044.
The Bus Association Victoria Inc. also expressed a related concern that the
implementation of the NDIS would not provide an appropriate transport solution
for all students with disabilities and told the committee this would have
impacts not just on the safety of children being transported, but would also
increase the workload for their schools:
The principals—indeed, some of the staff of the school—are
extremely concerned at the prospect of managing multiple vehicles at their
school at school arrival time and school pick-up time, because at present they
manage just one bus operator, who might have one, two or three buses coming
into the school.
... It is also of concern to the bus operators, because we are
talking about a very vulnerable type of passenger here. The benefit of the
special school bus network is that every bus has a supervisor on board the bus,
as well as the driver, who attends to the needs of the children on that bus.
Uber, community transport, carpooling and these other what we consider
less-safe modes of transport don't have that.
Accessibility of communication and digital information
While improvements have been made in the availability, affordability
and accessibility of communications products and services for people with
disability, there are concerns that there is 'still a long way to go before all
Australians with disability have the essential connectivity to benefit from our
digitally connected society'. Barriers to reaching accessible communications
include lack of access to appropriate equipment and devices; lack of awareness
about mainstream options; lack of suitable connections, set-up and training and
ongoing support; inaccessible services; and issues of affordability.
The Australian Blindness Forum complained that information about
disability is usually not available in formats that can be read by people who
are blind or vision impaired.
Other submitters noted that electronic information in general is often not
accessible, nor provided in various accessible formats.
The submission from ACT Disability Aged Carer and Advocacy Service (ADACAS)
made the point that while technology has potential to be an enabler to more
inclusive communities and opportunity for people living disability, that same
potential may be lost due to web accessibility barriers:
People with cognitive and learning disabilities are
particularly at risk to further marginalisation here – as less is understood
about the specificity of supporting digital access for this group. Increasingly
government, business, education, retail and entertainment information, service
and functions operate on line. While applications that help us shop, enjoy
friendships, bank, find a new home or new job are free and plentiful, they are
often inaccessible for people with disability.
Web accessibility and web services
for people with disability
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is seen as vital communication tool
for people with disability
and this was reflected in the Disability Strategy.
The committee was told by a number of submitters and witnesses that one barrier
to web accessibility is gaining a connection to the internet, particularly a
connection that can support high-bandwidth accessibility solutions such as
video calls. The submission from Monash University advised that their National
Housing Roundtable participants reported that the NBN has not yet offered this
Internet-enabled technologies are useful tools to build participation,
autonomy and environmental control, but affordability, access and user literacy
can be significant barriers for people with disability who may be living on low
incomes or without access to 'soft technologies' to build skills.
The committee was presented with a number of examples of the limitations of
internet-enabled technologies as solutions to accessibility, such as:
Deaf people require higher levels of data in their phone or
internet accounts to allow for Auslan–visual communication, which poses a
problem of affordability.
Only one third of vision impaired people having access to the
internet, and therefore cannot use accessible services that are only supplied
For people with disability for whom transport is difficult, the internet
is an important communication and social tool, and often becomes a social
meeting place. However disability communications websites such as ABC's RampUp,
are often funded as a temporary communication portal for a specific purpose,
rather than a permanent communication channel.
Disabled People's Organisations Australia (DPOA) told the committee that when RampUp
was discontinued, there was significant concern and outrage from the disability
community; as there are very few opportunities for people with disability to
have public discourse, the portal gave people a space to discuss issues, and
fostered writers with disability to develop their skills and voice.
A number of general concerns about national telecommunications
accessibility were raised during the inquiry. These included that:
The Universal Service Obligations for telephone and carriage
services are not being met for people with disability.
While the National Relay Service provides a wide range of
services to improve telecommunications access for deaf, hearing-impaired and
speech-impaired people (including SMS relay, captioned telephony, two-way
internet relay and the National Relay Service mobile app), not all services are
available at all times and this leave gaps in accessibility.
Deaf, hearing-impaired and speech-impaired people have inadequate
access to Triple Zero '000' emergency services when 'out and about' in the
community, and the use of SMS relay for emergency calls has not solved this
The high cost of living with a disability, particularly for those
reliant on disability support pensions, was also raised with the committee in
relation to telecommunications access. Some agencies suggest that the
Centrelink Telecommunications Allowance program be reviewed to ensure that all
income support recipients are able to connect to the telecommunications
services which best suit their needs.
Access to interpreters
The committee heard from advocates for the deaf community that the
Disability Strategy has resulted in negative changes in accessibility for deaf
Australians, in part due to the lack of interpreter standards in the NDIS
and the ongoing shortage of skilled Auslan interpreters across Australia.
Furthermore, with the introduction of the NDIS, it is assumed that deaf
people who have an interpreting fund in their package would be expected to
cover the costs of an interpreter for sporting and cultural activities. This
means that the boundaries between the NDIS and the requirements under Disability
Discrimination Act that 'goods and services' accommodate people with disability
have become muddied: it is unclear in many instances who is responsible to ensure
that a service is accessible – the venue or the person with disability.
There also continue to be systemic barriers to accessing and utilising
professional interpreters for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD)
people with disability. Government and non-government organisational staff are
often unaware of their responsibilities to provide interpreters, and CALD
people with disability often do not possess the information, or possibly the
self-advocacy skills required to secure access to an appropriate interpreter.
Technology advancements as
disadvantages to accessibility
Advocates for blind and vision-impaired people told the committee that
IT procurement is often done without first checking accessibility. Some improvements
in technology for the able community, such as touchscreens, can actually mean
less accessibility for disabled community. Touchscreen technology is inaccessible
to people who are blind or vision impaired as it is not tactile, and any voice
over functions cause privacy and security issues for those with disability. 
Despite these ongoing concerns about touchscreen technologies, according
to submitters these technologies continue to be rolled out in Government
offices following the implementation of the Disability Strategy.
While a number of companies have 'developed methods for making
touchscreen-based devices accessible to people who are blind or have low
vision...these solutions are not standardised across manufacturers and operating
and have caused particular concern following the recent introduction of
touchscreen ATM and EFTPOS machines across Australia.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) submission outlined a situation
where a blind woman was required to whisper her PIN number to her doctor's
surgery receptionist in order to make a payment on a touchscreen EFTPOS device,
and noted that the accessibility solution for that particular device involved
an audio-played instruction which lasts more than 10 minutes and would be
impractical to use in a busy setting.
The committee also heard evidence from advocates for people with
communications disabilities. Ms Dixon, National President of Speech Pathology
Australia, explained how communications disabilities have different
considerations for accessibility:
The National Disability Strategy does refer to communication
access as an important component of accessible communities where it talks about
inaccessible services and programs. Unfortunately, any progress made against
the strategy appears to have been confined to improvements in physical access.
We have seen almost no attention by governments to improving how accessible our
communities are for people with communication problems. There are approximately
one million Australians who have speech, language or communication problems. We
know from recent ABS data that about a quarter of a million people with
disability report to need assistance with communication. Communication access
is a similar idea to providing curb cuts for people with physical disability.
It is about changing the environment, including people in the environment, to
enable people with communication disability to access that environment.
Communication barriers exist for people to use a range of
government and community services that the rest of us take for granted: health
services, Centrelink and Medicare, the electoral system, the justice systems,
aged care services, the local post office, local council services and transport
systems. Even the best designed physically accessible built environments do not
enable inclusive and accessible access for people with communication disability
unless a focus is made on what needs to be done in that environment to enable
effective two-way communication.
There are no standards or guidelines to ensure that community facilities
and services, including transport, are accessible to people with little-to-no
speech, or speech and language difficulties.
Even government services, such as Centrelink, have limited accessibility for
people with communication disabilities.
Advocates are working to improve policy and regulation in this area, for example
through the Communication Access Network, which is a community capacity building
service in Victoria.
Standards and legislation for
communication and digital information
While the Disability Discrimination Act is supported by a series
of disability standards for access to premises, transport and service, there
are no Accessible Information and Communication Standards that require
information to be fully accessible, for instance in the same way that
facilities must conform to Building Standards to enable access.
Part 9D of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 relates to the
captioning of television programs for deaf and hearing impaired people and the
obligations of broadcasters to provide captioning. The Act also applies
different requirements to subscription TV compared with free-to-air and mandates
increasing captioning levels for the subscriptions television industry.
Many exemptions for captioning are granted under the Act,
and one hundred per cent captioning for non-exempt programs across all subscription
services is not set to be reached until 2033.
The ABC provides the most captioned content of any broadcaster in
Australia and told the committee that their content is accessible 'well above
the legislated hours' set by the Act:
The ABC, like other broadcasters, is required by legislation
to caption 100 per cent of programming between 6.00 am and midnight on our main
channel, which we comply with. But, overall, over 24 hours a day for last
financial year on our main channel we captioned 90 per cent of programming. For
our multichannels, we captioned the majority of programming on those channels,
as well. For example, on ABC2, from 7 pm to midnight, we captioned 97 per cent
of programming. Across 24 hours a day it was 76 per cent of programming. So we
do caption well above our legislative requirements under the Broadcasting
However, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
gave evidence that the ABC's voluntary captioning has in fact reduced since the
implementation of the Disability Strategy, due to financial constraints, and
they are now only providing what is required under law, which represents a
reduction in the amount of captioned content available to people with
ACCAN also told the committee that securing the introduction of audio
description on broadcast television, used by people with vision impairment, is an
even greater challenge than introducing captioning. As there are no standards
for audio description, and implementation is voluntary, it is unlikely to be
done by any broadcaster.
There is no permanent audio description service on any Australian television,
despite trials on ABC1 in 2012 and on ABC iView in 2015–16. There is a
government working group set to report on audio description by 31 December
The committee were also informed of the emerging issues around
captioning and audio description for online catch-up and on-demand television,
which are growing areas for broadcast and not covered in the current Broadcasting
Services Act 1992.
Web accessibility and ICT
The Disability Services Commissioner of Victoria recommended in his
submission to the committee that, in order to support the communication
accessibility needs of people with disability, there should be minimum standards
set for all government and public sector organisations for web accessibility;
for example, in addition to WCAG 2.0 adherence, web content could include Easy
English, Large Print, Rich Text Format, Auslan, audio and other community
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) noted in its submission
that the Australian Government agreed in 2016 to adopt the European standard
for the procurement of accessible Information and Communications Technology
(ICT) (EN 301 549), known as the Accessibility requirements suitable for
public procurement of ICT products and services.
However, other submitters recommended that national procurement guidelines for ICT
should reflect the principles of Universal Design and mandate accessible ICT
products and services.
Accessible and inclusive employment
The committee notes that employment is not a specific area of focus for
Outcome One of the Disability Strategy, but rather comes under Outcomes Three (Economic
security) and Five (Learning and skills). However, evidence received through
the course of the inquiry outlined a number of interrelationships between those
areas of focus and the provision of accessible and inclusive communities.
The Australian Blindness Forum declared that the failure of the Disability
Strategy to create inclusive and accessible communities has had an enormous
effect on the employment rates of people with disability. The absence of
accessible workplaces, transport, materials and communication services all
restrict people with disability from participating in employment and thereby
significantly reducing their income.
Significant accessibility barriers for economic participation through
employment include lack of physical access to many places of employment,
discriminatory hiring practices, and lack of public transport options, and lack
of quiet spaces for autism.
People with disability experience lower economic participation
through employment and figures show employment rates are getting worse.
Workforce participation of people with disability has declined
in past 30 years and has not improved with the introduction of the
A Deloitte study found that if the gap between the unemployment rate for people
with and without disability could be reduced by just one third, phased in over
the next decade, the cumulative impact on GDP over the next decade would be $43
Accessible and inclusive communities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
There are a number of unique accessibility concerns for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander peoples with disabilities, particularly in regional and
remote communities. Evidence received by the committee outlined the following key
Access to suitable housing is difficult in regional
and remote communities and Indigenous housing initiatives have not taken
the needs of people with disability into consideration.
Access to transport systems for indigenous people with disability
in regional and remote settings. These systems are 'virtually non-existent' and
there is often significant distance for people to travel to access health
services, education or employment. When transport is available, it is generally
informal in a standard vehicle not designed to support physical disabilities.
Lack of information and expertise in assistive technology in
remote areas means people live without available aids. 
Delivery of these systems should take into account challenges faced by
Australians living in regional and remote settings, including Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Island peoples.
A high need for culturally appropriate advocacy
and information to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples'
engagement with the NDIS and local disability services.
Remote indigenous communities may not have access to electronic
media, including internet access, causing difficulty in accessing online
disability services or filling out government forms for support, such as for
NDIS, which are often based online.
Commercial spaces, such as shops, in small Aboriginal communities
are not accessible, effectively completely excluding people with disabilities.
The committee were also informed that many emerging issues for Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Island persons with disability related to a focus on NDIS for
solutions to accessibility. The First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) explained
to the committee that the NDIS takes an individual approach and this is not how
Indigenous communities tend to structure themselves; a 'whole of community'
approach is more culturally appropriate as well as a better mechanism for
inclusion in places with fewer NDIS participants.
Lack of individual advocacy in communities has resulted in many individuals
having no-one to help them join the NDIS.
However, the committee heard that access to the NDIS alone is not enough to
ensure accessibility: in remote communities, people can have a NDIS plan
completed but have nothing they can purchase in their community, or be provided
with accessibility aids under the NDIS that they are unable to use out in the
community because the built environment is not accessible.
Assistive technology as a solution to accessibility
Assistive technology (AT) is a key enabler in delivering accessible
communities, as AT devices enable people to enhance independence, work, care
for themselves and participate in community activities, and are part of an
integrated solution for accessibility.
However, a range of evidence was submitted to the inquiry to indicate that both
a lack of consultation and a lack of coordination has impacted progress to
deliver AT solutions to accessibility issues.
AT and home modification are important for accessibility, but there are
often long wait times for professional assessments and people often do not know
what products are available or what is best. The Australian Rehabilitation and
Assistive Technology Alliance told the committee that the 'soft technology' of
expert advice is often the key to improving the uptake and impact of AT.
However, there are concerns about gaps in AT solutions for accessibility
from submitters. According to the Independent Living Centre WA, AT information
services have generally been block funded from a variety of sources, often at a
state level, however there is no indication of future funding under the NDIS.
Furthermore, the Macular Disease Foundation Australia described how subsidies
for AT for low vision are inconsistent at national, state and territory levels
and inconsistent depending on whether diagnosis occurs before or after age 65.
Meaningful consultation: seeking better outcomes
... unfortunately, saying 'we are going to consult' when you
have one meeting and [saying] that is 'consultation' does not really mean that
anything has come out of it.
As outlined at the start of this chapter, a recurring theme from submitters
and witnesses was the impact that poor consultation has had on the
effectiveness of the implementation of the Disability Strategy. The committee
received a large amount of evidence outlining concerns with consultation
processes, including a number of concerns about both the quality and frequency
of consultation across a broad range of sectors.
What does consultation look like?
The text of the Disability Strategy stressed the importance of
consultation. Each of the implementation plans for the Disability Strategy
included a section 'Embedding the voice of people with disability', which set
out the commitment of all governments to engage with people with disability, their
families, carers and representative organisations. Specifically, the plan intended
for this to occur in the following three ways:
Providing advice and feedback to governments on the development
and progress of each implementation plan through representative organisations
of people with disability and government advisory bodies.
Encouraging government agencies to adopt protocols that ensure
people with disability and their representative organisations have the
opportunity to contribute to policy and program development.
Ensuring the experiences of people with disability are reflected
in the Disability Strategy progress reports to the Council of Australian
Governments and in the evaluation of the Disability Strategy. This would be
done by engaging with people with disability, their families and carers,
through their representative organisations.
The Department of Social Services addressed engagement protocols in the
Disability Strategy in its submission to the inquiry:
Engagement protocols outline an agency's
approach to involving people with disability in actions and decisions that impact
on the lives of people with disability, their families or carers. All agencies
and jurisdictions should, within their portfolio responsibilities, consider
how people with disability might be included, or inadvertently excluded, in the
course of their work. The protocols apply to governments' responsibilities as
policymakers and administrators, and as an employer.
The second implementation plan report renewed the Council of Australian
Governments' commitment to ensure that government agencies develop protocols
for engagement and consultation, noting that the first phase of the Disability
Strategy had focused on Commonwealth agencies over state and territory groups.
It also set out a plan for stakeholder input in monitoring implementation
progress through consultation with and feedback from people with disability,
their families, carers and their disability representative organisations.
However, this plan did not include guidelines for the nature of this
consultation, such as the form or frequency it should take.
DPOA noted in their submission that this consultation was not meeting
expectations of the community:
While there has been opportunity to provide feedback to DSS
regarding the progress of the [Disability Strategy] and the development of the
Second Implementation Plan, these opportunities often rely on one-off
consultation forums and meetings, and the provision of written submissions.
There is no 'built-in' engagement mechanism for people with disability to
genuinely inform design, implementation and evaluation of the [Disability
People with Disabilities WA told the committee that the lack of
consultation is not only a Commonwealth level issue, but is also an issue at
all levels of government:
We have a state plan here in WA called Count Me in, which is
meant to be the iteration of the National Disability Strategy at the [state]
level...There are programs and bits and pieces happening, but it happens behind
the scenes. The coordination that happens around it isn't happening with the
sector in terms of people with disabilities and our representative groups.
As part of fulfilling their responsibilities under the Disability
Strategy, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) released their Disability
Inclusion Planning guidelines in 2016 to assist councils in meeting their
obligations under the Disability Strategy. These guidelines set out the disability
consultation requirements for each state and territory, with a focus on how
consultation impacts the success of local governments and councils at an
implementation level. In addition, some States and Territory governments explicitly
require consultation with people with disability when developing plans as part
of their disability discrimination legislation, while others do not.
ALGA's Disability Inclusion Planning guidelines provide
information for local governments about disability consultation at all stages
of planning, implementation, and reporting, and resources on how to implement
inclusive consultation. 
As an example of how consultation and progress can occur at the local
government level, ALGA also provides a 'Good disability inclusion practice in
local government' model, which outlines the following recommended approaches:
Integrate disability inclusion actions with other policies and
Disability inclusion is a process not a project.
Consult with people with disability in a meaningful and ongoing
Establish and foster an Advisory Committee.
Leadership and support of elected officials and senior staff.
Build strong partnerships with community organisations and
Train council staff to encourage inclusive practice.
Develop formal and informal networks between councils.
Disability inclusion aims to go beyond compliance.
Develop 'SMART' (i.e. specific, measurable, agreed upon,
realistic and time-based) disability inclusion actions and goals.
Involve people with disability within council—as employees,
volunteers and elected members.
Implement access audits.
Getting consultation right
The inquiry received a great deal of evidence regarding consultation,
indicating the level of importance given to this issue by many submitters and
witnesses. The evidence showed that despite consultation protocols developed by
individual government agencies, local governments and captured within the
Disability Strategy itself, the quality of consultation remains inconsistent,
where it occurs at all.
Local groups gave evidence to the committee about positive stories of
consultation through local government Advisory Committee models recommended by
the ALGA guidelines above. Carers Queensland informed the committee of the
accessibility improvements they achieved after engaging with the Toowoomba
Council Regional Access and Disability Advisory Committee, including:
After asset mapping of shops, rubber matting has been laid down
to create wheelchair access for some of the stores.
A performing arts organisation now has a number of people with
disability doing programs in dance, martial arts and drawing, without requiring
a support person to be present.
The Languages and Cultures Festival now has an Auslan
However, it appears that local government Advisory Committees are not
established in every local government area, and where they do exist, are not always
properly engaged by developers, business owners and the broader community to
provide accessibility feedback and advice. The committee heard an example from
the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council's All Abilities Consultative Committee
(AACC), where the AACC was invited to give feedback at the opening of a new
vineyard cellar door and restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula, rather than
being consulted at the start of construction:
The facility had, in their minds, done a lot of consultation
presumably with consultants and industry experts to ensure that the facility
was going to be attractive. There was a lot that they did do; however, our
committee was invited to attend a few days out from the actual opening. The
members of the management team were obviously really excited to have us there
and were hoping that this was going to be an opportunity for us to be extremely
jubilant about how amazing the place was. The reality was that we sat down at
the tea after the tour and came up with the huge list of things that had
actually not been addressed....It just seemed a crazy to us that we had not been
invited right at the very beginning of the process. Why wait until things were
already up and running to then come in and say, 'Come and have a look at this
and give us your recommendations'? Our point is that we really believe that we
need to be involved right at the very beginning.
Submitters also expressed concerns that individuals were not being
consulted at all about some access and inclusion issues in the community. AFDO
noted that while it is pleased to see that the Disability Strategy
implementation plans commit to engagement with people with disability, 'this
promise to consult is expressed through a commitment to engage with
representative organisations rather than individuals'.
Furthermore, AFDO made the point that many of the representative organisations
which receive funding from government are population-based, rather than
disability specific organisations, which adds to their concerns about the
adequacy of consultation:
It is difficult for generalist or population based
organisations to have a comprehensive and in depth understanding of all the
issues facing people with specific disabilities or conditions. It is
unrealistic to expect a small number of organisations to have the depth of both
experience and contacts to ensure adequate representation on any particular
issue. It is also true that while there are issues common to all or many people
with disability, there are particular issues that have a disproportionate
impact on specific disability types. It is important that this expertise is not
Others held concerns about entire communities being left out of planning,
or engaged too late in the process.
Mr Damian Griffis, CEO of FPDN, gave evidence to the committee about the impact
of leaving communities out of consultation, particularly Indigenous, rural and
In one example, he reported a lack of consultation ahead of the National
Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) rollout in Tennant Creek and ongoing issues
with accessibility due to this:
I was out in Tennant Creek a couple of weeks ago and an old
fellow said very succinctly, 'I've got this flash wheelchair, but it is
meaningless; I cannot get around my community.'
In a lot of ways, too often in the disability space in our
community these things are sort of 'a bridge too far'. There has not been the
front-end investment in fundamentally understanding the market. At the
community event that we had in Tennant Creek a couple of weeks ago—and we were
very keen to just talk with community—the community said to us, 'This is the
first time anyone has come to talk to us about disability.' So that means that
there have been plenty of presentations going on up there and a lot of
PowerPoint presentations but they have not connected with community—the
community has not gained an understanding of what all this talk is about.
At the front end we need to invest in more engagement and
more consultation around disability more generally before we can even to
notions of people getting access to the NDIS.
The committee also heard of instances where individuals were not able to
be involved in a consultation process due to accessibility issues. A case study
in the submission from ADACAS outlined a situation where a woman with a
disability, who also cares for a son with significant disability, was
disinvited from the National Disability Insurance Agency co-design consultation
processes when she asked for either the support she needs to access email or to
be contacted by phone or mail instead.
A lack of industry-based feedback groups was cited as another concern
for facilitating proper consultation. ACCAN raised in their submission that
there is often limited information for or consultation with people with
disabilities and their representative organisations when it comes to
telecommunications and that '[i]ndustry peak body Communications Alliance,
Optus and Telstra have all retired their respective consumer consultative
forums over the last several years'.
Another issue raised was that when feedback was sought from the
community or advocacy organisations, it was sometimes not incorporated into
solutions, or the solutions did not match what community had asked for. Mr Kyle
Miers, Chief Executive of Deaf Australia, cited an example of consultation with
the Department of Communications and the Arts in relation to the National Relay
On the outcomes issues that were raised the community
provided feedback to consultation to the federal government. Then a decision
was made, but they did not close the loop and come back to us regarding the
recommendation. For example, on having to register for the National Relay
Service we thought: 'Really? Taking that approach was not part of the community
consultation. We do not believe that is an effective way to run the service'.
Deaf Australia also provided an example of how a rollout of caption
technology in cinemas, considered to be a 'reasonable accommodation' by the
AHRC, still failed to meet the expectations of the deaf community. The project
was instigated following a complaint to the AHRC by Deaf Australia about the
lack of access to captioned cinema in Australia; however the solution decided
by the Australian Government, AHRC and cinema industry was designed without
consultation with the deaf community. Deaf Australia explained that:
Many deaf people feel that the current equipment is 'a step
backward' from an enjoyable experience as many experience a wide range of
problems and issues when using this equipment and they are not enjoying movies
as they should, and therefore, is not reasonably accommodated.
Specific problems with consultation in accessible transport projects
were likewise addressed by submitters.
Ethnic Disability Advocacy explained how a lack of consultation in implementing
solutions could have flow-on effects for people with disability in accessing
Lack of consultation by transport authorities with those most
impacted by changes made to transport routes or discontinuation of public
transport services results in making it difficult for people with a disability
get to their hospital appointments, their educational institutions or their
workplaces. This limits independence as they then have to rely on informal
Multiple submitters and witnesses expressed disappointment in a lack of consultation
in a recent Queensland Rail project to build new suburban trains. These new
trains have a number of issues for accessibility, such as narrow corridors
between carriages and inaccessible toilet spaces, and have been granted an
exemption under the Disability Discrimination Act due to construction
restrictions caused by the narrow gauge rail used in Queensland.
Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) stressed in their submission that there
'is no legislative mechanism to ensure that the Queensland state government
consults with people with disabilities before commissioning railway
infrastructure'. QAI argued that:
If given the opportunity to do so, people with disabilities
could have identified these problems much earlier in the design process. This
would have made the trains fully accessible and would have saved taxpayers a
lot of money that must now be spent on the redesign and rebuilding of the
These negative experiences of consultation are not universal. In
contrast, the NSW Disability Network Forum commended the 'approach of Transport
for NSW, which brings together representatives of a range of disability
organisations in the Accessible Transport Advisory Committee'.
Similarly, Blind Citizens WA told the committee they have a good consultation
relationship with TransPerth:
We're very pleased with their inclusion of us in a lot of
their planning of things like the East Perth redevelopment of the station, the
new station at the stadium. We also worked with them on the Wellington Street
Perth busport. It's really good to be included at the planning stage and to be
able to go through and see how they can make it more accessible for people who
are blind and vision-impaired. Public transport, as you can imagine, it is
hugely necessary when you have vision impairment and are not able to drive.
Being able to use the transport system safely is very important.
Amaze also noted in its submission that consultation with people with
disability and their families resulted in the successful development of an
autism guide for visitors to the St Vincent's hospital Melbourne.
The changing nature of advocacy in
Advocacy groups play a major role in embedding the voice of people with
disability in the National Disability Strategy.
The committee heard that disability advocacy groups run for and with
people with disability are imperative in representing the interests of people
in particular for CALD people with disability due to language issues and fewer
networks, which results in barriers to access and service provision.
However, the NSW Disability Network Forum raised concerns that many of
the advocacy groups involved in consultation to date do not have secure funding
and may not even be in existence going forward, which could cause issues with
continuity of consultation.
The committee was informed by a number of submitters that the future funding
level under National Disability Advocacy Program is uncertain.
The Disability Network Forum expressed concern that failure to
adequately fund advocacy could lead to a failure of inclusion agendas. Advocacy
is particularly important to the development of large scale services such as
transport and infrastructure,
as shown in the Queensland rail transport example above.
The DPOA also noted that some state and territory funding for disability
representatives and advocates was ceasing, as these funds are being transferred
to the Commonwealth in order to support the NDIS. This will have the effect of
preventing or reducing engagement opportunities for people with disabilities
through such organisations and reducing advocacy.
Each state and territory had a different approach with
different ways of funding and different ways of implementation. I think we are still
seeing that in many ways...So it is important that we think about it
holistically...When you see a central coordination approach, that works well,
because people with disability present from a wide range of backgrounds—people
from overseas, young people with disability, older people with disability and
so on. So, when you coordinate and when you recognise that people with
disability have unique needs and you coordinate their needs, it works well.
The inquiry heard a range of concerns from witnesses and submitters that
a lack of structured coordination of programs and projects under the Disability
Strategy, resulted in disjointed outcomes that did not meet the needs of people
with disability, were geographically restricted to certain local areas, or
simply lacked progress as no single agency took a leadership role. The
following sections of the report discuss these issues.
National solutions to problems
The committee received evidence from a number of submitters indicating
concerns about the coordination of national standards and differences in
legislative requirements and responsibilities at local, state and territory and
federal levels of government, since the introduction of the National Disability
As discussed in the section on consultation, the role of ensuring the roll-out
of Disability Strategy and the accessibility of communities frequently falls to
local governments and councils. ALGA notes that local governments operate
within both state and federal frameworks, which causes practical issues with
implementation of accessible solutions:
Due to the different requirements across jurisdictions,
councils need to meet the various requirements of their State [or] Territory,
as well as national requirements...It is important to ensure that Commonwealth
and State legislation are consistent in terms of requirements and objectives,
to incorporate the practicalities of implementation, and that local government
is engaged in discussions and decisions on local priorities.
Better linkages between state/territory and federal requirements in
relation to disability and access could also improve collection of comparable
data for the evaluation of programs.
Accessibility for everyone: a chain
Issues of coordination were also cited as existing even within
individual projects or programs to improve accessibility. The committee notes
that some of the criticisms of the National Disability Strategy's progress were
related to failures in the coordination between various accessibility solutions
or in gaps of coverage within these solutions. A number of submissions
discussed the broad nature of accessibility and the interdependency of
different solutions to achieve accessibility in the community.
The National Employment Services Association's submission described the movement
of a person with disability through the environment as a 'whole chain of
challenges', wherein if one link is broken, the 'whole process becomes
[T]here is no point assuring wheelchair access to your
restaurant if you do not also assure it in the toilet facilities, or if the
tables are too close together to allow easy circulation; a sign in braille is
no good is if it is out of reach; there is no point having a mostly [Web
Content Accessibility Guidelines]-compliant website if access depends upon a
CAPTCHA challenge (only accessible to sighted internet users), and so on.
Well-meaning accessibility solutions are often proposed in piecemeal fashion
which fails to take end-to-end accessibility into account.
In other examples, Speech Pathology Australia explained that there is
limited value in only providing physical accessibility solutions such as ramps
and parking spots outside a public building, if the officers inside the
building are unable to communicate with a person with disability to understand
their needs; in such a situation, the missing link in the chain is training
staff in accessible communication.
Communication accessibility was the area most commonly cited for gaps
for people with specific needs. ACCAN made the point that while the National
Relay Service provides a wide range of services to improve telecommunications
access for deaf, hearing-impaired and speech-impaired people, it does not meet
the needs of people with multiple disabilities, people with intellectual
disabilities, deafblind people or those who are CALD. These people will
continue to experience gaps in access, as they are not protected under the
current National Relay Service legislation.
Similarly, while the Australian Accessible Emergency Response System ensures any
emergency messages issued during an emergency are accompanied by messages in
Auslan for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired, they do not include
messages with audio description for people who are vision impaired.
What is the impact of these ongoing accessibility issues?
In addition to the specific areas of concern raised above, the committee
was informed about the general impact of ongoing accessibility issues in the
community and various negative consequences of these accessibility issues on
the health, wellbeing and participation of people with disability.
The Australian Medical Association commented that for people with
disability, poor accessibility of services results in poorer health outcomes,
less full and effective participation and inclusion in society, and a reduction
in dignity, autonomy and the ability to be independent.
National Disability Services explained that the ability to move easily
around the community is essential for the economic and social participation of
people with disability.
Other submitters told the committee that social isolation is one of the main
consequences of restricted access for people with disability to participation
in economic, cultural, social, civil and political life. Social isolation can
lead to depression and other mental health issues as well as poor education,
social and economic outcomes.
Since the introduction of the Disability Strategy, Australian governments,
industry bodies, community groups and individuals have been involved in myriad
activities to improve the accessibility and inclusivity of communities.
However, despite some positive instances indicating some progress there
continue to be major problems in accessibility and inclusive for people with
disability and the Disability Strategy has failed to live up to expectation for
Poor coordination and consultation across all sectors has made this
situation worse and has had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the
Evidence received by the committee suggests that improvements to the
consultation process, particularly by involving people and encouraging feedback
at all stages of planning and implementation, could solve some of the ongoing
problems which continue to frustrate the community in achieving accessibility
Likewise, more considered coordination between governments, the private
sector and disability advocates would ensure that standards and programs are
developed, maintained and regularly reviewed, reducing gaps in access and
inclusion across the community.
The committee notes that a recurrent theme in evidence to the inquiry is
that there is a lack of centralised responsibility for the Disability Strategy.
Many submitters have recommended the introduction of a federal body to take
responsibility for oversight and implementation of the Disability Strategy.
These recommendations will be explored in the next chapter.
Many of the concerns raised by submitters and witnesses to the inquiry
are indicative of ongoing threshold barriers to meaningful change and progress
in the community. Finding a way forward beyond these barriers represents the
next great challenge for the effective implementation of the Disability
Strategy. The next chapter will explore these issues further.
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