Universal Service?

Telecommunications Policy In Australia and People with Disabilities

By Michael J Bourk

Edited by Tom Worthington.


This book is about the turning-point in telecommunications policy for people with disabilities which occurred in 1995. A successful complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission forced a major change of policy in telecommunications service delivery and benefited many who have disabilities.

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. The case detailed in this book is about the provision of teletypewriters to the profoundly deaf. It concerns a past era when the telecommunications network was largely for voice communications. However, the issues raised apply equally to today's digital networks; the Internet, the web, e-commerce and Digital TV.

Technologists, public policy makers and company CEOs who fail to learn from past mistakes are bound to repeat those mistakes. We are now building new forms of discrimination into our digital networks, pushing to the margins people with sensory, physical, cognitive and neurological disabilities. Public policy makers must consider the social cost of this discrimination. Company CEOs need to consider the loss of prestige and profits from adverse tribunal and court judgements. Technologists must consider their ethical obligations to the wider community and the interesting challenges and potential new product innovations which work in this field may bring.

Since Federation in 1901, Australian legislators have considered access and equity issues implicit in the role of state regulation of telecommunications. There is no reason to suppose that our parliament will not see a role in regulating access for the disabled to digital technology, if those implementing the technology do not address the issues themselves.

It took almost two decades for the issue of teletypewriters and profoundly deaf to be resolved. With the rapid pace of development of the Internet we cannot afford another two decades to decide this issue in the digital environment.

The words which follow are mostly those of Michael Bourk, who undertook the research. I was delighted to be able to be involved in editing the material for a more general audience and to prepare it for electronic and conventional publishing.

Tom Worthington FACS

June 2000

Further Information

Copyright © Michael J Bourk & Tom Worthington 2000.