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Blind People Receive Letters from Australian Government in Format They Can’t Read

The NDIS has been sending vision-impaired people vital communications in the form of non-braille letters and PDFs.

by Gavin Butler
01 July 2019, 1:49am

Image via Flickr user Heartlover1717, CC licence 2.0

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia

A number of blind and vision-impaired Australians have received letters from their disability support service in formats they can’t read. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a social welfare program that funds costs associated with disability and aims to help disabled people with their independence, have been sending vital correspondence to blind participants in the form of regular, non-braille letters or PDFs that don’t accommodate a screen reader, The Guardian reports.

The NDIS has an arrangement with Vision Australia—a not-for-profit organisation that offers services for people with blindness and low vision—to provide people with a visual disability communication in a form that’s accessible to them, according to the ABC. These include braille, audio recordings, or electronic letters that can be listened to via text-to-voice software. Since the scheme was rolled out in 2013, however, legally blind people have received a number of inaccessible forms of communication.

“The plans were simply being sent to people through the MyGov portal as a secure PDF file,” Rikki Chaplin, the acting chief executive at Blind Citizens Australia, told The Guardian. “Screen readers cannot read secure PDF files so some people were receiving print copies of plans, and they were braille readers. Naturally, they can’t read those.”

NDIS participants are able to identify their preferred communication format for information—but the problem, according to CEO of Blind Citizens Australia Emma Bennison, is that the initial communication is still sent in the form of physical letters that vision impaired people can’t read.

“The issue is that people have to keep asking for the information in the format they require, rather than it just being sent to them in that format by default,” Emma told the ABC in February. “I think now we need to see some real action on this. And I think if we don’t see that kind of action being taken in a timely manner… the only real recourse that people who are blind and vision impaired will have will be to lodge disability discrimination complaints with the human rights commission.”

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) appears to be taking stock of people’s frustrations, and will roll out new measures this month that aim to address the issues—including an automated system that will allow people to receive correspondence in their preferred format. A spokeswoman for the NDIA said the agency was committed to ensuring “information is accessible, and delivered to NDIS participants in their preferred format”.

While Blind Citizens Australia believes this will fix the problem, Rikki says the action is long overdue.

“We first raised this probably around three years ago,” he said. “We do find it very disappointing that we’ve had to fight this long for the agency whose job it is to take care of the needs of people with disability to understand what we feel is a very basic, fundamental concept.

“[But] while we’re disappointed, we do have to congratulate them for coming to the table.”

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