Thursday, 15 August 2013 06:44

M-Enabing Australia means better communications for all


Senator Kate Lundy has opened the M-Enabling Australia conference, being held yesterday and today at the Australian technology Park in the Sydney suburb of Redfern.

The conference is a partnership between Telstra and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Group (ACCAN).

The theme of the conference, being held for the first time, is the usage of mobile technology as an enabler for people with older people and people with disabilities. “We still have a long way to go, “ said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin. “Many apps and websites are still not accessible, even with the necessary tools now widely available.

“We need a commitment from everyone – developers, manufacturers, telcos and government – that this form of indirect discrimination will not continue. We must ensure accessibility is built into every product or service from the beginning.

“Nor will we have to keep retro-fitting and fixing our past mistakes, which is not only frustrating for the consumer but also ends up costing more for government and business.”

The opening address at the conference was given by Senator Kate Lundy, Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy (see following article). Keynote speakers include Axel Leblois, President of the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ICT), Professor Graeme Hugo from the University of Sydney, and Jill Riseley, General Manager of Digital Inclusion at Telstra, all of whom spoke yesterday. Today’s speakers include Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Senator Scott Ludlam, communications spokesperson for the Greens, who will speak via teleconference.

The event includes a showcase of products and services. Some of the products on display include an indoor mapping app for the blind and vision impaired, an SOS mobile watch for the elderly, and senior-specific smartphones and apps.

For Kate Lundy's talk at the conference, go to the next page.

A summary of Senator Kate Lundy’s address at the M-Enabling conference.

Mobile technology is spreading throughout the community. Mobile broadband traffic will continue to grow strongly. In 2011, an average of 8.8 petabytes per month were used, with this anticipated to grow to 119.3 petabytes per month by 2016, a 14-fold increase.

Mobile technology is increasing capital productivity, with estimated economic productivity benefits of $11.8 billion over the next decade. The take-up of mobile technology is creating opportunities in all walks of life.

These opportunities are driven by consumers increasingly using online services, which in turn has resulted in higher data usage and community awareness, resulting in demand for greater capacity, including through 4G network upgrades.

As at 31 December 2012 there were 17.4 million subscribers with Internet access connections via a mobile handset in Australia, an increase of 7% in six months. The technology can also assist people with disability or communications impairments, who can take advantage of smartphone features either by utilising built-in features such as SMS, voice recognition or translation apps such as Google Translate.

Apps like Georgie (on Android) allowsthe blind to navigate day-to-day tasks such as catching a bus, knowing their whereabouts, and reading printed text. Other apps such as Walk-Talky use Google Navigation to provide directions while reading aloud addresses, business names and landmarks. A similar app also speaks the names of a user’s surroundings.

CSIRO is trialling an app that allows the elderly to live at home safely for longer by collecting data on their movements around the house. The Smarter, Safer Home project is currently being trialled in NSW. While the data is collected by motion sensors, the data is reported to a tablet device so the elderly person can retain control over what data gets reported.

Vision Australia provides accessibility orientations via podcast on smartphone and tablets for the vision impaired. A number of Queensland special schools are using tablets as learning tools for their students. Darling Point Special School uses iPads in English, Maths and Science classes and have found children are communicating better.

While these opportunities are great for people with a disability or communications impairment, we need to bear in mind the digital divide that presently exists in Australia. While smartphone usage for those aged 18–34 was 7%, the figure is only 15% for Australians aged 65 and over. And smartphone users are more likely to be higher income earners and live in metropolitan areas.

One way we are fixing the digital divide is our Digital First policy, which commits Australian Government agencies to using digital channels as their primary or preferred form of service delivery. Putting major services online increases accessibility and reduces the cost of government services. The policy is part of a broader government goal to have 80% of Australians choose to interact with the government online by 2020. Agencies must design digital services in accordance with three core principles:

  • Agencies will design online services for the end user so that they are convenient, secure and widely available.
  • Agencies will use the move to Digital First to redesign their business process, reviewing the relevant policies and processes, as well as legislation where necessary.
  • Agencies will design their services for integration, with agencies collaborating on common standards, portals and credentials to give users easy and consistent navigation.
  • All priority government services will be part of Digital First, including services that relate to welfare, child support, health and aged care services.
  • Planning all services in accordance with Digital First from January 2014. This means government agencies will plan their services to be ‘end-to-end’ digital, from initial enrolment, to identity verification to subsequent transactions.
  • Making these services available on a range of devices, including computers, tablets, and mobile phones where appropriate.
  • Where face-to face services are still required, agencies will make video available as an alternative wherever it is cost effective and consistent with government policy.

A great example of mobile government service delivery is the Express Plus suite of mobile apps produced by the Department of Human Services. These applications allow Australians to access various services via their mobile phone or tablet.

DHS is Australia’s largest civilian government agency, with a clientele of more than 23 million people. DHS’s mobile apps are 69% more effective at helping people find the services they need compared to the alternative online interface. DHS estimates the apps have saved 200,000 hours of network processing time since the apps’ launch in July 2012

975,000 apps have been downloaded, 15 million transactions processed, and 100,000 customers report every fortnight. The apps also allow people to use their smartphone camera to scan claims information, rather than having to mail in their documents. Daily uploads of document photos from the apps reportedly exceeded 1300 in June 2013.

We clearly face a number of challenges if those with communication disabilities are to participate fully as citizens in a digital world. In particular, some of the people who would benefit most from mobile technologies are the ones who use it least and are unaware of how to access or use those technologies.

But the opportunities are enormous and are still unfolding. This conference provides a great platform for resolving those challenges and opportunities.


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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire. He is one of Australia’s longest serving and most experienced IT journalists. He is author of the only definitive history of the Australian IT industry, ‘A Vision Splendid: The History of Australian Computing.’

He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time weekly IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.



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