Researchers highlight potential of technology to support culturally diverse people with disabilities

Hand touching smartphone.

Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, researchers at Western Sydney University say technology such as Artificial Intelligence has a pivotal role to play when it comes to supporting people with disabilities in Australia and creating a more inclusive society.

Dr Karen Soldatic, Dr Shanthi Robertson and Dr Liam Magee from the Institute for Culture and Society are examining how Australia can better foster a sense of inclusion for people with disabilities who come from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) backgrounds.

Dr Soldatic, lead researcher on the project, says that although the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will assist almost 460,000 people with vital support services by 20191, the NDIS population only represents 10 per cent of Australia’s total disability population2.

“Australian Bureau of Statistics data3 suggests that there are 4.3 million Australians living with a disability, many of whom will miss out on the support and services they require for ongoing inclusive participation in Australian society as they do not meet the eligibility criteria,” she says.

“In addition, people from CaLD backgrounds may have limited experience of the Australian disability service system, may not be aware of their eligibility for disability services and supports, or may not meet the eligibility criteria because of the types of impairments they experience or their visa status.”

Dr Robertson, who has just completed a three-year research project on the experiences of Australian migrants, says proposed Government policies to extend waiting periods for the Disability Support Pension and Age Pension means increasing numbers of long-term migrant residents who develop chronic conditions or impairment will have limited access to social security.

The research team hopes to build new avenues for migrants with disabilities to participate in wider social activities through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and to advocate for better and more inclusive designs of AI itself.

“Much has been made, rightly, of the perils of emerging technologies such as AI, including the ways it can bias outcomes for minority groups,” says software researcher Dr Magee. “We are also interested in how these technologies can help to break down barriers.”

The research has found that even cheap and relatively accessible consumer technologies like language translation apps can enable day-to-day inclusion and autonomy of non-English speaking background migrants.

“Furthermore, digital technology can enable transnational families to provide aspects of care and connection to family members over distance,” Dr Robertson says.

Dr Soldatic says the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is an opportunity to acknowledge the important steps Australian society has taken towards including people with disability, and to acknowledge the major work that remains to be done.

“Given Australia’s commitment to a multicultural society, it is important that we build adaptive technologies that respond to the needs of Australia’s diverse disability community,” she says.

1Shakespeare, T. 2018, https://probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2018/07/australia-lags-behind-uk-disability-access-expert-says/ (opens in a new window)

2NDIS 2017, https://www.ndis.gov.au/more-in-2017

3ABS 2016, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/C258C88A7AA5A87ECA2568A9001393E8?Opendocument

Posted: 3 December 2018

Media Contact:

Emily-Kate Ringle-Harris, Research Media and Communications Officer, Institute for Culture and Society.

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