Australia - Disability Broadband

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Last updated: 6 Jul 2016 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 19

Analyst: Paul Budde


It is important to note that there is not one single group of people with disabilities. What can be said is that there are, on the one hand, people with serious (deaf and blind people) and those with multiple disabilities. These are a relatively small group, in the thousands; the complexities involved often necessitate specialised services. Because of their special need there is often a strong relationship between these people, their disability communities, and the agencies and NGOs that assist them.

On the other hand, we have the much larger group of people with a less serious (single) disability – such as hearing and visually impaired people - and often these are the older people in our society who don’t belong to any of the disability communities. They are serviced (or not) by the mainstream facilities available to them, often through their GPs and other medical facilities. This group is estimated to include between 2.5 and 4 million people.

Over the decades services to both groups have improved in relation to communications and entertainment, as well as other access services in relation to transport, building, and a range of public and private services and facilities.

However, with the new technologies that have become available over the last decade a new development is currently unfolding for these groups. We are using the term ‘disability broadband’ to classify the developments in these communication technologies. It is used to describe a concept, not a technology. It includes both fixed and mobile broadband-based internet access, smartphones, tablets and wearable devices, all already widely used by many people with a disability. Soon IoT and M2M based applications will be added to create smart homes, workplaces and other environments for people with disabilities.

For the most specialised groups these new technologies not only make new services and facilities available. It also often means less expensive technologies, as they can now much better participate in what is offered by the mainstream market, especially with special apps and services that can be accessed through these new technologies. And adding specialised facilities to standard products such as smartphones and tablets is, in general, cheaper than using the older proprietary-based devices that were used before.

It is expected that with the new National Disabilities Insurance Scheme (NDIS) an even greater role will be given to technologies – e-health, e-education and wearable devices are among the fastest-growing areas here.

The use of social media has also been taken on board by people with disabilities, and, particularly for those with more complex disabilities, social media has opened up new ways of communicating and socialising, not only on national but also on international levels.

Of course the broader group also has access to such services and in many situations the two groups are getting closer to each other in relation to services provided to them, and this creates opportunities on both sides. The specialised agencies and their suppliers can use their expertise to service a much larger market, while the mainstream market is well and truly aware of the niche markets that can now be more effectively serviced through these technologies, and they are keen to service the disability market.

This obviously leads to a significant level of disruption and, especially in relation to the specialised market and its suppliers, there will be winners and losers. This will also do away with some of the silos that exist at present; a more horizontal approach can be developed with the assistance of ICT. This will also have a serious effect on the operations of some of the traditional subsidies systems based on this silo structure. Furthermore, the market will become more globalised, with companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple already positioning themselves as important players.

Another ‘new’ market will be the extended community in which people with a disability live and work – family and friends, workplaces, tourism and travel organisations, government agencies, etc. The concept of disability broadband will also much easier to far more seamless integrated communication and information between them.

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As usual, you’ve done a splendid job of bringing an industry well and truly into the spotlight.

I think that without your input and passion, Australia would have barely scratched the surface of the benefits that can and will be achieved with the wholesale adoption of Smart Grid and Smart City concepts.


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