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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7264


Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services and Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction) (9:33 AM) —People with disabilities become used to adapting to a world where everyday objects, buildings and systems are not designed for their needs. Sadly, it is the people with disabilities who have to adapt because in many cases their needs are considered to be secondary and somehow not relevant when objects are designed. Too much of the energy of too many Australians with impairment goes into dealing with minor irritations which could have been avoided with a little care and imagination. I would like to briefly discuss two examples today.

While smoke alarms are installed in most homes across Australia, I wonder how many members have thought about how useful standard alarms are to people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment. There are various smoke detection devices available for deaf and hearing impaired people. These include sensors which make lights flash in every room in the house if smoke is detected in one room, or devices such as vibrating pads and bed shakers that will wake up a person if a fire is detected during the night. However, these are not commonly installed, and deaf people who buy or rent a house are likely to have the significant extra expense of installing new smoke alarms themselves. Of course, smoke alarms are not just placed in our homes; they are also in hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and guesthouses, which people who are hard of hearing do use. These alarms often rely solely on noise to be effective. A person who is hearing impaired must take a portable smoke alarm with them when they travel to make sure they are absolutely safe.

Standards Australia is currently working on a draft standard for smoke alarms for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. This process started in January this year and a draft standard is expected to be available for comment by November. At present there are a range of good products on the market for people with a hearing impairment, but they are only certified by Standards Australia as smoke alarms, not specifically as smoke alarms for deaf people. I commend Standards Australia for starting this process and for their genuine commitment to ensure that all Australians are protected. However, I would suggest that a better way to approach the problem would have been, when the original standard was being developed, to ask: ‘Will this create a product which will benefit all Australians not just those who are able to hear?’ When the question is phrased in that way, it is clear that the answer for the current standard is no.

My second example in the time remaining is the provision of wheelchair accessible taxis. Many people with a disability who are unable to drive find it hard to access public transport. They rely on taxis for their transport needs. For this group, taxis are a crucial lifeline for participating in society, for medical appointments, social activity and the like. Taxis are regulated by the states, some of which provide their own incentives to increase the number of wheelchair accessible taxis. However, there is no requirement in any state for the number of wheelchair accessible taxis to comprise a set percentage of the overall fleet. For the record, Queensland is the best state at 15.2 per cent while Western Australia is the worst at 6.3 per cent. We think there is a lot more which needs to be done and perhaps we should have purpose-built cabs for people with wheelchairs rather than shoving them into buses which are not appropriate. I think that we do need a new taxi standard design and I look forward to this too. (Time expired)