Latest World Blind Union e-Bulletin

The October edition of the World Blind Union’s E-Bulletin is now available! Pleas go here to grab your copy: WBU October E-Bulletin (Word docx)

Delivering the NDIS to more than half of eligible Australians

16 September 2015

Joint Media Release with:

The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP
Prime Minister

The Hon. Mike Baird MP
Premier of New South Wales

The Hon. Daniel Andrews MP
Premier of Victoria

The Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian governments today signed the first agreements for the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Today’s historic signings confirm the joint commitment of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian Governments to people with disability, their families and carers.

The agreements give certainty to around 140,000 people with disability in New South Wales and around 105,000 people with disability in Victoria. They also give certainty to their families and carers.

Together, the signed agreements with New South Wales and Victoria cover more than half of around 460,000 Australians and their families who are expected to be eligible for support from the NDIS when it is fully rolled out.

The NDIS is one of the largest social policy reforms in Australia’s history. Working together, our governments are building a sustainable scheme that will stand the test of time.

Transition will begin in July 2016, with a geographical roll out moving from region to region, covering all eligible people under 65.

The region-by-region roll outs will ensure service providers have time to grow, to meet the needs of their clients and to meet demand.

In New South Wales, the rollout will start with the Central Coast, Hunter-New England, Nepean-Blue Mountains, Northern Sydney, South-Western Sydney, Western Sydney, and Southern New South Wales regions.

The Illawarra-Shoalhaven, Mid North Coast, Murrumbidgee, Northern New South Wales, South-Eastern Sydney, Sydney, Western New South Wales, and the Far West regions will start entering the scheme from July 2017.

In Victoria, the Northern East Melbourne, Central Highlands and Loddon regions will join the scheme from 1 July 2016. The regions of Inner Gippsland, Ovens-Murray, Western District, Inner Eastern Melbourne, Outer Eastern Melbourne, Hume-Moreland and the Bayside Peninsula will commence from July 2017, followed by Southern Melbourne, Western Melbourne, Brimbank-Melton, Goulburn, Mallee and Outer Gippsland from July 2018.

Victorian children on the Early Childhood Intervention Services waitlist will enter the scheme during the first two years of transition and ahead of the scheduled transition of each region.

Today’s agreements are a huge accomplishment for the people of New South Wales and Victoria and will ensure people with disability in these states have access to the lifetime choice and support they need.

Senate Calls For TV Audio For Blind People

Source: ProBono news
Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 – 10:45
Author: Xavier Smerdon

The Australian Senate has supported a motion which could force television stations to introduce audio description services for blind and vision impaired people.

Australian Greens Senator, Rachel Siewert, raised the motion yesterday which called for the implementation of audio description services on free-to-air and subscription television programs by the ABC and all other networks.

Senator Siewert said a large portion of the Australian population were being disadvantaged by not having full access to television shows. “Audio description describes actions, gestures, scene changes and facial expressions for those with no or low vision during pauses in dialogue,” Senator Siewert said.

“Currently the ABC, SBS, Foxtel, and the commercial free-to-air television networks provide no audio description in Australia. With approximately 350,000 people in Australia who are blind or have low vision, this is simply not good enough.

“The Senate acknowledged this today in supporting my motion. The motion calls on the Government to amend the Broadcasting Services Act to include requirements for the provision of audio description on free-to-air and subscription television programs.”

Senator Siewert said Australia had fallen behind the rest of the world in not making television shows accessible to blind and vision impaired people. “Audio description has already rolled out in the Germany, Spain, Ireland, the US and the UK on free-to-air or subscription services,” she said.

“It is time for us to catch-up and offer this service across the board. I hope Senate support for this motion increases momentum on the issue and encourages positive outcomes.”

In July this year NSW woman, Suzanne Hudson launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the ABC for its failure to provide audio description services. In February Not for Profit, Vision Australia lodged complaints with the Australian Human Rights Commission against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS and Foxtel, calling for an audio description service. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented Vision Australia in the complaints and said the organisation was asking for a minimum of 14 hours of audio described content per week on each channel named in the complaint.

“In the same way as captioning has facilitated media access for people who are deaf, audio description has the potential to significantly improve access to Australia’s cultural life for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision,” PIAC’s CEO, Edward Santow said.

“The technology and accessible content exists, and it has already been successfully trialled on the ABC in 2012, so we are calling on the other Australian broadcasters to take this important, permanent step towards equality now.

Artificial intelligence enables people who are blind to “see”

An app that allows people who are blind to identify the world directly in front of them using machine vision technology.

This short video shows the reactions of first users: Youtube clip

Media release

Artificial intelligence enables blind people to “see”

Students at Singularity University have created an app that allows blind people to identify the world directly in front of them using machine vision technology.

The app, Aipoly, is an intelligent assistant for the visually impaired that empowers them to explore and understand their surroundings through computer vision and audio-feedback.

“The power is in helping us construct the mental picture. And not everybody has the same skill at creating mental images,” says Steve Mahan, president of the Santa Clara Blind Centre and Google’s self-driving car’s first user. “Most of us are trying to do [that]. Knowing where we are is sometimes more than an address.”

The user takes a picture that is automatically uploaded to the Aipoly servers, where it is analysed and tagged, and a description is sent back and read out loud using text-to-speech. This means that blind people may be able to see what their kids are wearing each day, recognise street signs, find objects that are out of reach, and have freedom to purchase gifts for their friends by themselves.

The machine vision algorithm is optimised for use by the visually impaired with training in street signs and objects commonly used by blind people.

Machine vision, or computer vision, is an exponential technology that has more than doubled in accuracy between 2012 and 2013. Convolutional neural networks are used to identify the elements within a picture and neural image caption generation to feed back a semantic description of its content.

There are 285M visually impaired people in the world and in the next 5 years, two thirds of them will become smartphone users.

As for the bigger vision, “developing this technology further could help us identify and search for objects around our homes and outdoors like we do with websites online,” says Aipoly cofounder Alberto Rizzoli.

Singularity University was founded in 2008 by Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in blind technology having created optical character recognition (OCR) and the first text-to-speech synthesizer, with over 40 years of experience in the field.

“This complements the work that Ray Kurzweil has done,” says Aipoly cofounder and 2012 Young Australian of the Year Marita Cheng. “In every focus group, people mention a Kurzweil technology they use to get about their daily lives.”

Singularity University students learn about using exponential technologies to impact the lives of a billion people within 10 years. The Aipoly technology will be showcased at Singularity University’s Demo Day on 18 August at NASA AMES Research Park in Mountain View.

Aipoly is now looking for beta testers from around the world. Beta testers of all visual abilities (including fully sighted and blind) are sought.

Press kit, video, photos, logo, images:

Contact:
Marita Cheng
Cofounder, Aipoly
+1 (650) 695-7409
marita.cheng@singularityu.org

Media Release: Audio Description: ABC sued for unlawful discrimination

Blind Citizens Australia Media Release
7 July 2015

Suzanne Hudson, who is blind, has today launched a case of unlawful discrimination against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for their failure to provide audio description as part of their regular programming – a service that would make ABC TV accessible for the 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) will represent Ms Hudson in her case, which will be heard in the Federal Circuit Court.

Audio description is a second audio track that can be turned on and off. It describes the important visual elements of a television program – such as actions, scene changes, gestures and facial expressions – that a person who is blind or has low vision can’t see.

Ms Hudson believes that by failing to make its television broadcasting service accessible for people who are blind or have low vision, the ABC has engaged in indirect discrimination.

‘Australia is dragging its feet in providing an audio description service that would provide inclusion of people who are blind or have low vision into the TV watching community. Many countries, including New Zealand, the UK, US, Ireland, Germany and Spain, already provide the service on free-to-air or subscription services,’ said Blind Citizens Australia President, Mr Greg Madson.

‘By comparison, 20% of the UK Channel 4’s programs offer audio description, which works out at more than 33 hours per week.

‘In fact, people who are blind or have low vision can watch Home and Away with audio description in the UK but not in Australia.

“Members of Blind Citizens Australia were bitterly disappointed when the ABC decided not to introduce an audio described service following a successful trial of audio described service on free to air ABC TV in 2012.” said Mr Madson.

‘While a decision earlier this year by the ABC to trial audio-described content via iView is a step forward, there remain significant barriers to many people accessing the online service, especially for those who rely on screen-reading software, and for those who struggle with an extra layer of complexity to simply watch a TV show.

‘With a 2012 successful audio description trial by the ABC in 2012, and the technology and accessible content available Blind Citizens Australia urges the ABC to take this important, permanent step towards equality.’

The case follows the lodgment of discrimination complaints against Channels Seven, Nine, Ten SBS and Foxtel in the Australian Human Rights Commission in February.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Greg Madson
President
Blind Citizens Australia
0408 396 333