NDIA ditches best practices to save money in blind man’s court case

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Richard Hamon has hundreds of pages of documents to sift through in his case before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Legally blind due to a degenerative genetic condition, he is seeking more funding under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to allow him to travel for specialist vision assessments so he can purchase a assistive technology.

In the meantime, it needs the AAT documents in audio format. He’s been asking for this for 18 months that the case has been in court. When he finally received them, he found that instead of hiring professional readers, who grade paragraph sections to allow listeners to stop, start and skim through the documents, Hamon says they were read by the staff of the National Disability Insurance Agency. The 17.5 hours of recordings feature player skipping too close to the microphone, distortion, and no way to jump to page or paragraph sections.

“It’s excruciating to listen to,” says Hamon Crikey. He says the NDIA argued that professionally producing the audio files would cost too much. “I raised the concern from the start that they would not meet accessibility standards.”

Funding is going to the wrong places

Hamon lives in regional Tasmania, where specialists are limited. He is requesting trips to Melbourne for an assessment through Vision Australia to be fully funded by the NDIA so he can purchase assistive technology with his NDIS funding. The NDIA could avoid producing the audio files by funding this trip. He has already agreed to fund the technology.

Hamon says his experience in the AAT has caused serious health problems due to stress, and spinal problems have arisen from hunching over his computer while he waits for his assistive technology evaluations.

“[The NDIA] are not interested in cooperating with people with disabilities. They are only interested in competing with them,” says Hamon.

There has been a 400% increase in the number of people with disabilities challenging their NDIS plans in the AAT. The NDIA spends more than $17.3 million a year on outside law firms to fight disability claims. Hamon has an advocate for people with disabilities who represents it. The NDIA has hired top law firm HWL Ebsworth.

Hamon went back and forth with the agency, in one instance offering a cost estimate for a trip to Melbourne of $45.39 in driving costs per kilometer to take him from the ferry to a nearby hotel for an appointment. you medical. HWL Ebsworth attorneys hired by the NDIA later verified the figure, finding a cost discrepancy of $2.38.

Hamon says NDIA was concerned about managing the costs of hiring professionals: “If they’ve cut audio costs and I don’t find them accessible to sue because they’re so infuriating to listen to, then this brings me back into the AAT.”

The NDIA said Crikey it “provides for and ensures accessibility to enable full engagement in the processes” and “converts the documents it has created into accessible formats” when filing them with the AAT.

It did not say whether it had any policies regarding producing documents in accessible formats, although Hamon says the files provided do not meet best practice guidelines.

Accessibility is not difficult

Accessibility in the AAT is also a concern. An August 2021 joint submission signed by 20 disability organizations recommended improvements to the NDIA’s joint design to make the AAT process more accessible. He found the process to be “unnecessarily complex, slow, and difficult to navigate” and that the NDIA is conducting the appeals process in an “inappropriate and unfair manner.”

There are two things that need to happen to make content accessible, said Center For Accessibility Australia CEO Dr Scott Hollier: “People with disabilities need to have the right tools on their device of choice…and the content must be prepared in a way that works with these tools.

Assistive technology includes a text-to-speech program, screen magnifiers, and a high-contrast color scheme built around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines – an international standard for ensuring content accessibility. If formatted correctly, a screen reader will announce captions, bullet points, and describe images, with users being able to choose the reader’s voice and speed.

“But that only works if the content is designed to that standard,” Hollier said. The NDIA website has struggled to meet these standards before, although it has undergone multiple redesigns.

Digital content intended for audiences in Australia must comply with some version of these standards or face a breach of disability discrimination laws. But, Hollier said, it’s up to the complainant to file a complaint and prove the company didn’t do the right thing – rather than the company to show it meets the standards. .

“It’s always an uphill battle in Australian politics.”

This article is republished from our sister publication Crikey.


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