Panel Discussion with emerging advocates
AFDO Next Wave Advocacy Conference.
21 October, 2019.
PATRICK McGEE: If I can invite Mary Mallett and Bree O’Dwyer to the front, please. We’re just going to have a conversation now about the future of advocacy and I’ll just introduce that in a minute and then after that we’re going to have a panel session with three new and emerging advocates who will be talking about their journey towards being a advocate and then the work that they are passionate about and focussed on. Bree is from the Youth Disability Advocacy Service and Mary Mallett is more experienced and the CE O of DANA and what Mary doesn’t know about advocacy isn’t worth knowing. If I can invite Mary and Bree to sit or stand, what ever is more comfortable and looking at the future of advocacy and the challenges for us.
MARY MALLETT: Good afternoon. Bree and I will stand because it is easier for people to see us than if we’re sitting. In the first place, I’m going to get Bree to introduce herself. Bree has been an advocate for three months and I want her to tell you a bit about where she’s come from into the advocacy sector.
BREE O’DWYER: My pronouns are she, her. I have been working at the youth disability advocacy service for three months and I come from a legal background. That’s probably enough that I can give you for now. Because the panel discussion includes my journey to becoming an advocate. Yeah, so, hi. I’m Bree and I’m brand new!
MARY MALLETT: So, Bree and I sat down outside and we’re not going to do exactly what Patrick asked us to do. We’re just going to pick one issue rather than all of the advocacy issues that are going to be important in the next five years because that’s huge. So, we’ve just kind of picked one and we’re going to pick our way through it. So, Bree, what is the particular issue that you think will be important in the next five years that we have to grapple with?
BREE O’DWYER: Having spoken about it with you, I’ll go with the fast paced technological change that is happening and just how integrated our lives are becoming with the Internet. Not only because people with disabilities are being able to be more included and connecting with their communities through the Internet, they’re being able to be employed. I know I benefit from using the Internet for my employment. I can work from home when I need to. You can access education and services. But there’s also the risk that not having sufficient Internet provision or not having enough experience in grappling with the information on Internet could be detrimental and make your experience or people with disabilities’ experience incredibly negative and could allow for abuses to occur.
MARY MALLETT: I think Bree’s done the 15 minutes in about one minute.
BREE O’DWYER: Sorry.
MARY MALLETT: We’ll unpack that. The issue of technology and how the advocacy sector grapples with it and how the people that advocates are supporting can, or can’t, access it, is important because government expectation now is that everything will be online. And that everyone can access online material all the time and somehow has the capacity to find it, understand it, print it off, and expectations that are completely removed from the reality of the people that you are all working with. So, what do we do? How do we get around that? You got any suggestions?
BREE O’DWYER: No! But I think another important point to make is, like the gentleman in the back mentioned much earlier in the day, is communication access. Is that even though, like, governments and agencies expect engagement online, the ability to engage online is severely limited and how do we increase communication access through the Internet or software or even ensure that people who can’t easily access it, that software is created.
MARY MALLETT: There’s an issue that I’m interested in on behalf of advocates, which is most organisations have had the same amount of funding for years and for some of them that funding’s under threat. So advocacy organisations themselves have had little capacity to keep their own IT systems updated. One of the biggest gaps in the sector is communications expertise. There’s an expectation now that you’ll all have Facebook pages, on twitter, sharing, using all of these channels for advocacy but without any commensurate increase in funding that will allow you to use people who know what they’re doing to do that. People are doing it off the side of their desk or asking favours of people but there’s very little funded and paid expertise in the sector to help us use this important channel, because it’s an important way of doing advocacy that we have to find. We have to find some solutions to that. And then there is the other issue is the people we’re supporting don’t have the access. Bree, already, in the three months of being an advocate, have you seen any of this already play out?
BREE O’DYWER: The lack of access to communication?
MARY MALLETT: Yes.
BREE O’DWYER: Yes. For instance, I have a client who has dropped off the radar, they are no longer engaging in services, they are no longer on the phone, I call them every week. How do I find them? How do I support them? And how we’re coming into an age soon where access to the Internet is going to be considered a human rights but we don’t have the capacity to ensure that for everyone. And how do I ensure that people who and I think this is going to lead on to the next issue that you’re talking about, but the ability to afford access to that Internet or software or technological assistance.
MARY MALLETT: There are are many of you familiar with the Australian Digital Inclusion Index? A few people. Hands going up. That work is done every year by ACANN and Swinburne University, maybe RMIT, Google it, look it up. It is really worth reading it. Because what it shows, if you unpack the detail of it, what is shows is that at least to some extent the digital divide is decreasing. So, over all, people’s access to the Internet and technology is increasing. However, if you dive into the data and have a look at it properly, you’ll see that people who are who have disability, people who are older, people who are poorer, are not actually getting better access. So, at a time when the whole of the rest of the population is now doing everything online, the group of people that most, that advocates generally work with, are either staying the same or getting further backwards. And there isn’t much systemic advocacy happening in this area. There’s no particular organisation funded to think about this. You are probably all seeing examples of it, practical examples, but none of us have any money to pick up it and look at it systematically in any way. Any ideas that anybody has, let’s have a think about, yeah, any thoughts about how to get some progress happening in that area, because as the Federal Government is developing Services Australia, which is what human services who is going to turn into and that is everything online. And interestingly, the new CEO of the NDIA is the director of the task force for the implementation of Services Australia and was previously Services NSW. That is his driving thing, everything on the Internet. It will work for some people but perhaps not a few people that advocates work with. Bree, you had other thoughts about people falling through the cracks about, what do we do with people who how do we work with people who don’t have a digital footprint?
BREE O’DWYER: Great question, Mary, I don’t know. I think we, as a sector, are going to have to become incredibly agile, yes.
MARY MALLETT: A question? Yes.
FRANK HALL BENTICK: With regard to accessible ICT, I live in Richmond, and that’s the Yarra area, and we had a young woman working with us at the City of Yarra and she needed JAWS to work all the computer programmes, so, the Internet. Unfortunately, JAWS wasn’t able to read the generic programmes that the council used and there was no funding to adapt JAWS to do that. So, it meant that her ability as a blind person to work productively was severely limited. I have an issue when I work in the Internet, I use Dragon Dictate. And unfortunately, a lot of the generic programmes that are up there now don’t recognise Dragon. So they won’t let you talk and produce text into their programmes. So, this is very limiting to me and I’ve then got to do work around and then copy them into that. So, the although there’s accessible programmes around, as I said, they don’t all work with what’s on the Internet and then organisations have their own specific programmes, there’s often a clash. So, we need to, although the Internets and computers are a wonderful thing, we need to make sure that accessible programmes that we’re using are able to be used on these. And if not, we need to be able to get funding to adapt them. So that they can be used, otherwise your ability to use the Internet or the computer is severely limited.
MARY MALLETT: One more question over here, Patrick.
BELINDA O’CONNOR: Thanks very much. My name’s Belinda O’Connor from Women with Disability ACT. I am a person with vision impairment who uses assisted technology in everyday life including Zoom text as a person employed in the federal public service and has been for 18 years. I would like to echo’s Frank’s comments to ensure there is accessibility with programmes but also to add to that that there are actually standards in place, they’re just not actually being implemented. We have web access content guidelines and we also have the Australian Standard on purchasing of accessible ICT which is part of the Department of Finance’s Commonwealth procurement rules. The issue that I find as a person with disability working in the public service is that there is very little evidence that that is actually being implemented, known and therefore access issues are persisting. In terms of funding for programmes, I’m aware that Job Access actually provides funding for someone to come out and do scripting for JAWS or Zoom Text to work with proprietary programmes such as record management systems, etc. so that is an option available. It’s just that not many people know about it and there are certainly other options around. It’s just a matter of allowing that information to be accessible instead of pushing the person with disability out of the workforce, thanks.
PATRICK McGEE: OK, one last question and then we have to wrap it up, Mary and Bree. Brendon?
BRENDON DONOHUE: I would like to echo the comments made around the accessibility of said work soft’ wear and systems. The unfortunate thing is at the moment there does not seem to be a care from the sector to implement such accessibility in said computer systems and software, even though there is funding from Job Access, it is very widely not known, this fact. Also, it is very disappointing that, still, in 2019, we still have these large system barriers to employment that keep coming up and because of this I was actually pushed out of the Australian public service not so long ago. So, yes, this is a very pressing need and it is a need that does need to be dealt with very strongly, thanks.
MARY MALLETT: Thanks.
PATRICK McGEE: Quick conclusion.
MARY MALLETT: The conclusion is there is work to be done in this area to bring people together who are experiencing these issues and who know about them and then have some sort of systematic way to address some of them.
BREE O’DWYER: On an international scale, the standards to be maintained.
PATRICK McGEE: Lovely. Could you please put your hands together and thank Mary Mallett and Bree O’DwyerShare this