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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1849

Senator COLEMAN(5.06) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I draw the attention of the Senate to a sentence contained in the letter from the Chairman of the Australian Science and Technology Council, Professor Slatyer , to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in which he said:

The main conclusion is that handicapped people are not enjoying the full benefits of technology, irrespective of whether the level of technology is simple or sophisticated.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I know your interest in this area and I recommend the report to you, given that it is restricted by virtue of the people who have made a contribution to it. If one turns to the back page one will see there a list of the people consulted. A large number of them are from academic, industry , voluntary and government groups with a direct or indirect interest in handicapped people. I have not been able to find, in the short time available to me, any area where the Technological Change Committee actually met with handicapped people per se to learn of their attitudes to what technology is or is not doing for them. I thought that would have been very high on the priority list. However, a further study, 'The Handicapped Programs Review-Aids and Appliances', is being conducted, I understand, by the Australian Government. Perhaps that will give us a further indication of the needs of the people themselves, not an indication of what other people believe their requirements are. But there are some very interesting figures in this report, figures which certainly frightened me because I was not aware of the number of handicapped people in the community. For instance, paragraph 1.6 on page 2 of the report says:

For the ABS survey a disabled person was defined as a person who had one or more of the following disabilities (which have lasted, or are likely to last, for six months or more):

It then goes on to talk about loss of sight, loss of hearing, speech difficulties in native language, blackouts, fits, slowness of learning or understanding, incomplete use of arms, legs or fingers, and so on. Paragraph 1. 10 then says:

The 1981 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated 1,264,600 Australians (8.6 per cent of the population) to be handicapped, and a further 677,400 to be disabled but with no subsequent handicap. Thus in total, 1,942,000 Australians (13.2 per cent of the population) are disabled. In the survey, three levels of severity (severe, moderate and mild) were determined for three different aspects of daily living: self-care, mobility and communication . . . Of the 1,255,200 handicapped persons aged 5 years or more, 295,800 were mildly handicapped; 253,700 were moderately handicapped; 514,000 were severely handicapped and severity of total handicap was not determined for the remaining 161,600 persons.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I am sure that you will agree with me that those figures are frightening. It is perhaps time that this community started to look very quickly at means of providing those handicapped and disabled people with the necessary technological aids to enable them to have a reasonable lifestyle, whether it be involvement in the work force, simply a means of communication or being able to fend for themselves in their daily lives. Another statistic of the ABS is that 38 per cent of all handicapped persons use one or more aids.

We are frequently made aware of the position of the handicapped in our community. I can remember many years ago when the main Commonwealth bank in Perth first installed a special switchboard for a blind person to handle. The concern that I expressed then is as real as it is today. Whilst that was considered to be new technology, so many technological advancements are being made on a day by day basis that we have to think ahead for the requirements that those people will need to live a reasonably 'normal' life. Those aids can range from simple assistance in the home unit to the latest in technology which will enable them to participate in a quickly advancing work force and, particularly, to make known their needs. We have a lack of communication with these people. I hope that the program of aids for disabled people which will take place under the Government will be much more fulfilling than the ASTEC report.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Haines) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.