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The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) says the Federal Government’s Household Assistance Scheme (HAS) is essential to ensure people on lower incomes who have a disability, seniors and those living in remote areas will have uninterrupted access to television as the switchover from analog to digital television progresses around the country.

ACCAN says it was part of a Consumer Expert Group set up more than 12 months ago by the Federal Government to ensure that all Australians could continue to watch television using a set-top box – which is required to receive a digital signal on older analog TVs. Together with other advocates, including Vision Australia, Media Access Australia and CHOICE, ACCAN was successful in lobbying the Federal Government to include in the HAS set-top boxes that can be used by blind and vision-impaired citizens.

“People with no real understanding of disability issues have been quick to put their hands up and say that they could provide set-top boxes and installation cheaper, but the fact is this Government has worked hard to ensure equitable access to television as the digital switchover happens and the Household Assistance Scheme provides that,” said ACCAN Chief Executive Teresa Corbin.

ACCAN says prior to the work undertaken by the Consumer Expert Group, there weren’t any set-top boxes available in Australia that had built-in accessibility features; effectively meaning people with vision impairments would no longer be able to independently operate their televisions.

The Government responded to the Group’s concerns by commissioning set-top boxes suitable for use by this group that are currently being trialled in Victoria ahead of a national rollout to consumers who need them.

“The Household Assistance Scheme means that people who need help making the transition to digital television will have that help. We commend the Government for listening to consumer and disability advocates about the need for the trial and rollout of set-top boxes that can be used by people with vision impairments, which includes many of our senior citizens.”

ACCAN says the headline $350 price tag isn’t just for the set-top box alone, but includes the installation in people’s home, after-care service and the provision of antennas in areas where the digital signal is not strong enough.

“What isn’t being commonly reported is that the $350 cost also includes services for those who need them like in-home demonstrations and access to a free hotline for 12 months after installation [of the set-top box],” said Ms Corbin.

“Anyone who has elderly parents or family members with a disability will know that what may seem like a simple set-up process [of the set-top box], will be costly and difficult for some people without assistance. It has been a shame that so much of the rhetoric about the Scheme has been around the cost rather than the benefit of ensuring that all Australians can continue to access free-to-air television.”

Media contact: Elise Davidson M: 0409 966 931 TTY: 02 9281 5322

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