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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
02/03/2007
Human Services (Enhanced Service Delivery) Bill 2007

CHAIR —I welcome the witnesses from Vision Australia. Would either of you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Simpson —Yes. Vision Australia appreciate this opportunity to reinforce the points made in our submission regarding the Human Services (Enhanced Service Delivery) Bill, which deals with the access card. Vision Australia is Australia’s largest organisation providing services to people who are blind or who have low vision and in that capacity we interact with over 40,000 people who are blind or have low vision in any given year. In our submission we have made a number of recommendations regarding the implementation of the access card. These 13 recommendations really do fall into three main categories: firstly, the use of the card as a form of proof of identity; secondly, the usability of the card from a disability perspective; and, thirdly, promotion of the card and the application process in terms of its accessibility.

Let me say upfront that we do applaud the government’s initiative in introducing an access card. It is not uncommon for people to hold multiple cards to access services and this is particularly problematic for people who are blind or who have low vision and as a result have a difficulty identifying the different cards in their possession at any time. Regardless of whether they are taking a card out to access government services or to access commercial services, it is really important to know which card they are retrieving. I would like to take a few minutes to expand on each of the three main categories and then give you an opportunity to put questions to Ms Sumaktas and me.

Firstly, in relation to the use of the card as a form of proof of identity, people who are blind or have low vision generally do not have drivers licences. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but people who are blind are particularly discriminated against because we do not have the same forms of ready proof of ID that others in the community have. We acknowledge the concerns and understand the sensitivities around the protection of information that might be stored either on the card or in a database and the potential for information and cards to be misused. However, we fully expect that government will provide assurances and build protections into whatever systems are put in place prior to the card being implemented.

We want to see a card that will in fact be endorsed as an eligible form of proof of identity. What we mean by that is that, given that it might be a voluntary proof of identity, whilst businesses, government departments and others throughout Australia might not legally be able to ask for the card to prove identity, it can in fact be offered as a form of identity, particularly for those of us who do not have the same forms of identification as others have available to them who have, for example, drivers licences. In that capacity, we want the government to make sure that the card, when it is being offered as a voluntary, legitimate proof of identity, carries the same legitimacy as other primary forms of personal ID—for example, a passport, a driver’s licence or a birth certificate. That means that the government may need to look at amending the regulations under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act. I understand that is the act that identifies which forms of ID are able to be primary forms and, therefore, carry the majority of points—70 points—when opening bank accounts and other things that require you to gain 100 points.

We also believe that the Australian government needs to promote the access card as a legitimate form of voluntary ID, so that businesses throughout Australia that seek proof of ID before people undertake transactions, whether it be making bookings with airline companies, posting parcels overseas or establishing accounts with mobile phone companies, accept it as a legitimate form of ID. When we, the people who want to use the card as a voluntary proof of identity, offer it as we walk into Qantas, Virgin or whatever, it has to be accepted as a legitimate form of ID. We have had a number of people who are blind or who have low vision who have been refused a raft of services both from government departments and other businesses in the community because they have not been able to offer the same forms of ID. You would be surprised how many times I have stood directly in front of somebody and clearly been identified as a blind person, whether it be at the local post office or at the counter of an airline company. and they still ask me for a drivers licence as proof of ID. We are looking for government to support us in that aspect.

The second area is around the usability of the card from a disability perspective. I mentioned earlier that it is not uncommon for people to have a multiplicity of cards in their wallets. There could be cards used to access government services or a range of other cards. For those of us who cannot identify cards by look or feel, we need to have this card in particular managed in a way which allows us to identify it. We are seeking to have some tactile marking on the card so that it can be identified by feel. That means not just allowing an individual to put their own marking on it; we seek a generic solution, such as a tactile raised ‘A’ on the card or some other form of tactile marking that will provide a generic solution. In terms of the colour contrast, for those people who have low vision or who have some useful sight, we need to know that they will be able to identify the card and be able to read the print on the card against the background. By that we mean that the printing on the card needs to have good colour contrast, luminous contrast to the background of the card. Too many times we see cards that have a mottled, blue background, for example, with darker blue writing on them. For people with low vision, it is virtually impossible to read the information on the card.

CHAIR —How much longer do you have to go before I can invite senators to ask questions?

Mr Simpson —About two minutes.

CHAIR —Okay, go ahead.

Mr Simpson —In terms of the information on the card, we also want to make sure that the technology that is utilised allows people who are blind or have low vision to be able to manage their own information on the card and to access that information. The technology that is developed, such as the card readers, needs to be accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. It is very important not only from a customer perspective but also on the other side of the counter. If I were employed by Centrelink, Medicare or a raft of other government departments that are going to access the information on the card, as an employee I want to be able to do the same job that everybody else behind the counter is able to do. Already we have seen a number of government departments implement applications. For example, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations requires all work agencies to utilise its EA3000 software. It is inaccessible to people who are blind and vision impaired and that has put a barrier in the way of employment of people who are blind in the job networks. We want to make sure that, in implementing the card, government makes accessible the technology that is used so that you can manage your own personal information and the person on the other side of the counter, an employee, can access the information from that perspective. They need to access the information as well.

The last area is in terms of promotion of the card and the application process. We want to make sure that government informs the community in a way that is going to be accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. That means not just using the daily newspapers, because most blind people cannot access the daily newspapers. We want to make sure that the media that are used are accessible to people who are blind or vision impaired and that the application process is also accessible. So it means that whatever application processes are developed they need to be developed in a way that blind people, whether they are using technology or in any aspect of the process, are going to be able to go through the application process in the same way as other people in the community. They are the comments that I wanted to make and I now invite you to ask questions.

CHAIR —Thank you. For fear of repeating myself, colleagues, we are about three-quarters of an hour behind already this morning. It is not a criticism of anyone—certainly not of the witnesses, nor of my colleagues—but I ask you, colleagues, if you can, to expedite your questions.

Senator MOORE —I have two questions. The recommendations in your paper are very much about the implementation of the card and quite practical things about, ‘when’—that is the way your submission is written—it is implemented, how the card and applications should work. How have you fed that back to the government? They seem to be generic recommendations about the effective use of technology for people who have vision impairment. Have you got those issues into the system now?

Mr Simpson —We have made a number of submissions to the Office of Access Card and, outside of the formal submission processes around the bill, we have been working with the Office of Access Card to ensure that the technologies that are used and the implementation side of it will be accessible.

Senator MOORE —I note that one part there has already been agreed and you are just waiting to see how it happens. We will follow up with the department on that on Tuesday.

The second question is to do with what I heard is the main justification from the government for the card, which is to crack down on fraud. As an organisation, is Vision Australia aware of incidences or numbers of fraud in the current system with proof of ID for people who have vision impairment or who are blind?

Mr Simpson —Yes. We are aware that the identities of some people who are blind or who have low vision have been misused or fraudulently used, but we cannot actually identify whether that information was used because those people were blind or had low vision, and therefore the information might have been more readily accessible to people who wanted to use it fraudulently, or whether they have just been like other citizens in the community who have had their identities and information stolen.

Senator MOORE —If we could get anything on notice from your organisation, if they would be prepared to let us know about your concerns about that kind of fraud, that would be useful. That is not in your submission, but that would be useful. Thank you.

Mr Simpson —We can do that.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Good morning. We have been presented with a prototype of the card. Have you been presented with a prototype which incorporated some of the design features to which you referred, whether braille or whether it had that tactile element in another way? Has the department done any work on that?

Mr Simpson —We have been presented with prototypes of the card and our feedback to the Office of Access Card following the presentation of those prototypes was that they fell far short in terms of the colour contrast and print size on the card and that they had no tactile marking. We have another meeting on Monday with representatives of the access card to again talk about the design aspects of the card from a disability perspective.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —I think the government was suggesting that, for the benefit of people who are blind or have vision impairment, the word ‘blind’ could be put on the card. I wanted to know what your response was to that: whether that would be the most appropriate way, if any, and whether or not that would be the terminology that is most usefully employed. What would make it most appropriate and—I do not know—disability friendly?

Mr Simpson —Our view is that people who are blind generally do not mind the use of the word ‘blind’. However, we do not believe that there is a need to have any identifying feature like that on the card, whether ‘blind’, ‘deaf’, ‘able-bodied’—

CHAIR —On the face of the card?

Mr Simpson —On the face of the card, yes.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Thank you for that. That is very helpful. I am happy for you to take this question on notice or now. I have read your recommendations. But I see from going through the legislation—and as you, I think, acknowledge—it is pretty silent on any provisions that deal with, in particular, the issue of people who are visually impaired or blind, and a range of other issues with which the government should deal. Is there any particular amendment or amendments that you would put forward that would give you some safeguards and some certainty that your concerns were being addressed or your needs protected?

Mr Simpson —The particular amendments would be those that might address the concerns around the ability to identify the card tactilely and also around the print size and colour contrast on the card.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Thank you.

Senator WATSON —I was very moved by your presentation, sir, but you seem to suggest that we should be providing a lot more information than is intended. This could give rise to some privacy considerations. What discussions have you had with the authorities about opening up the card for wider use? It is almost an identity card that you are asking for. That was never the intention of this particular access card.

Mr Simpson —We are asking for it to be a legitimate, voluntary proof-of-identity card. The additional information that we were seeking to have included in the chip of the card are things like an individual’s preferred format for correspondence. For example, currently people who are blind or have low vision are able to receive correspondence from Centrelink around, say, their disability support pension (blind), or age pension (blind), in a number of formats: braille, large print or electronic. We feel that it would be a legitimate use of the card to have an area within the card, both on the government section of the chip and the individual section of the chip, containing a person’s preferred format for correspondence so that, in interacting with government departments, not just Centrelink, they can read that part of the chip and then know that whatever correspondence they send to you they need to send you in braille, large print, electronic or on an MP3 audio file. That is the information that we are seeking to have there.

Senator WATSON —You did mention about a tax file number being on your card.

Mr Simpson —I cannot recall mentioning the tax file number, I am sorry.

Senator WATSON —That is okay then, thank you.

Senator LUNDY —In one of your recommendations, you mentioned the ability of the card reader to be in such formats that they can be accessed by vision impaired people. Can you just describe for the committee what your understanding of that would involve and what kind of technology would have to be attached to the reader to facilitate its effective use by vision impaired people?

Mr Simpson —It would be technology that is generic but allows itself to have adaptions, such as the one that I use here—a braille and audio device—so that the electronic information that might be coming up onto a screen or a print menu, for a sighted user, comes out in braille. You can see the braille strip along this device. In audio it comes through the headphones so that a blind person can use it. Not all technology allows for that, hence my comment around DEWR’s EA3000 system. The screen reader technology that is used by people who are blind in most workplaces is a system called JAWS and the EA3000 system is not compatible with that technology. Somebody using JAWS cannot actually read the information on the EA3000 system, hence the barrier to employment for blind people in job networks.

Senator LUNDY —That is very interesting. What standard would need to be invoked to ensure that the computer system associated with the card readers would, in fact, be able to be compatible with the sort of device you are using that you described?

Mr Simpson —There are a number of standards that are used both in Australia and internationally around electronic access and also access to the internet—the W3C accessibility standards, for example.

Senator LUNDY —The W3C accessibility standard applying to the card reader technology would satisfy that for the purposes of vision impaired people?

Mr Simpson —In the main, yes.

Senator LUNDY —Thank you.

CHAIR —Mr Simpson and Ms Sumaktas, thank you very much for your attendance here today. I appreciate your evidence, thank you.

[11.27 am]