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23 May 2012
By Robert Morsillo
May
23
2012

Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Prize for Telecommunications and Disability

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Hobart, Tasmania, brings back many wonderful memories for me. The harbour, Salamanca Place, the little classical music shop with CDs stacked from floor to ceiling, the old State Cinema. But most of all I appreciate the people and friendships that were fostered there, particularly in my work at Telstra Consumer Affairs.

The late Christopher Newell was one of those cherished Hobart friends and the awarding of this prize in his honour is always a special occasion for me. It recognises and commemorates the ground-breaking work that Christopher undertook with Telstra and the telecommunications industry, 1990-2008, representing the needs of people with disability.

I think it is fair to say that Christopher was the one who taught the telecommunications industry in Australia about disability and about accessibility. He toiled to open up new understandings by industry of who their customers were. He wanted industry, government, society, everyone, to listen to people with disability and accord them the same opportunities to participate as everyone else.

This year there are four prize-winning papers making a contribution to communications policy, innovation, media and disability studies. One of the papers documents a Web 2.0 project that enables people with disability themselves to help others with information about communications solutions. Another paper describes research into perceptions of disability through television shows and suggests possible better programming strategies. Another looks at telecommunications access by people with complex communications needs, and finally, another considers current public policy issues where disability, telecommunications and participation intersect.

I am proud that Telstra supports this prize as part of its commitment to people with disability. Our support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme has also been significant, ever since our submissions to the Productivity Commission inquiry in 2010. Our Disability Equipment Program, Action Plan, Consumer Forum and Enquiry Hotline continue to ensure that we are leaders in making communications accessible for people with disability.

I hope you will join with me in congratulating this year’s prize winners, then have a think about the issues they raise, and perhaps you might even considering putting in an entry next time. See www.acs.org.au/acstsa for entry details.

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