At the launch of Telstra’s 6th Disability Action Plan on 3 December 2013, Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes gave this speech:
Geoff Scott is your average Aussie bloke- an artist, a big supporter of the West Coast Eagles, a man looking after his ageing dad, and someone who wanted to use his phone. So, like most Australians, he’s a prospective Telstra customer. Only difference is that Geoff is deaf. So instead of Geoff wanting a Telecom phone- which you used to give out as part of the rental in those days – he wanted a TTY.
Sadly his needs were not able to be accommodated, so he lodged a discrimination complaint. Telecom did not want to provide people who are deaf with TTY’s at the time, but that is a long time ago. Before they were viewed, just like other Australians, as potential customers. His complaint was successful, and Telecom embraced the decision, participating in the scheme to provide TTY’s to people who are deaf throughout Australia.
I remember the days when Telstra, or Telecom, or I can go back as far as the PMG, used to run our phone system. In fact, as a university student, as well as being a regular phone user, I remember some encounters with Telstra employees that were closer than I preferred.
I was walking down the street in Burwood Sydney one day, using my white cane. A Telecom technician was working in a Telecom pit, with his little tent up above the pit to indicate that the cover was off. Sadly, he had only placed his tent half way over the pit. This meant that my cane didn’t contact the tent. Instead, I contacted the Telecom technician by landing on top of him – a landing which neither of us enjoyed.
He was pretty unflustered. His first words, after the expletive, were “Are you going somewhere?” “Yes, but not down here” I replied. About two weeks later, in Ashfield, my cane hit another of those little telecom tents. The technician inmate pushed it aside, looked at me, and said “Bloody hell, not you again.” It was the same technician.
Unlike the technician, Telstra’s DDA Action Plans have not been the same. I browsed through the earlier ones during this last weekend. Yes, I’m a DDA nerd I need to get a life. And I saw the path of an organisation striving to address the challenge it had set itself- making employment and service provision available to everyone in the community, not just people without disabilities.
For some people, the development of Action Plans has not been as positive as at Telstra. At the Commission we have acronyms for some that don’t work so well.
Firstly, there is The NAP or Nobodies Action Plan. It tends to take a nap at the back of a filing cabinet.
There is the STRAP or Someone’s Taken the Resources Action Plan. It is the sort that is high on rhetoric, but low on outcomes, often because it is strapped for cash.
There is the FLAP or Floundering and Lost Action Plan. It is the sort that struggles to integrate itself into the organisations general business activities. It tends to flap around like a fish out of water.
I also note the Created Reluctantly Action Plan – think about the acronym – which fails to get organisational leadership endorsement.
Joking aside, these acronyms do point to a very real set of difficulties which have an effect on the development and implementation of action plans.
However, in Telstra’s case, these problems have not been too much in evidence. To go back to Geoff Scott’s story, following the conclusion of that case, Telstra became involved in the roll-out of TTY’s, and you have continued ever since.
Telstra has regularly consulted with people with disabilities both through established committee processes, and through broader networking of staff- fulfilling one of the key philosophies of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability – nothing about us without us.
Telstra have continued to make specific products relevant to people with various disabilities available through its Telstra outlets.
And of course, Telstra was a sponsor of the Twenty Years: Twenty Stories project. You made a significant financial contribution to the films, and agreed to have Geoff Scott’s story of change made into one of the films. This reinforced a theme of a number of these films, not only showing the success of the person with the disability who lodged the complaint, but showing how the organisation complained about had adopted the change, and thus changed the lives of many other people with disability.
Things have changed a lot in the telecommunications world since I stopped falling down Telecom pits, and Geoff Scott started using his TTY. Our phones now sit in our pockets rather than on the hall table at home, and data flows into our phones probably much more than voice. And Telstra has changed as well, recognising people with disabilities as part of its broader customer base. That’s why this sixth Disability Action Plan is a cause for celebration.
The Plan commits Telstra to an organised process for removing CAPTCHA’s from its web sites. These are devices, often fuzzy or moving letters that were developed to sort humans from bots trolling on the internet. But as well as blocking the bots from web sites they block people – such as myself – who use voice output to tell me what is on the screen rather than looking at the screen. So, if a CAPTCHA needs to be completed to sign on to a web site then I am effectively blocked from that site. Not a good way to maintain and increase the Telstra customer base.
It also includes embedding diversity into the Telstra brand by including people with visible disability in Telstra brand advertising. This makes Telstra’s advertising more real, more representative of the whole community. And it makes disability what it really is – just a normal part of everyday life. That’s a very effective way to change limiting and negative attitudes about people with disability in the community.
There are also actions in the plan which will improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Unemployment of people with disabilities has increased according to the latest ABS survey, so this too is a very important initiative.
An organisation such as Telstra, with networks and millions of customers around Australia, is never going to get it all right. But the successes of previous Disability Action Plans demonstrate a real commitment to change, and this plan continues to propose progress in the future.
I’m pleased to launch this Disability Action Plan on the international day of people with disabilities.
Thanks for the chance to speak with you today, and have a great international day.