Anthony at a train station

Transport phone changes will exclude people with intellectual disability

24 October 2018

In October 2018, Transport for NSW planned to change its 131 500 phone line services for Opal top-ups and trip planning form. CID member and transport advocate Anthony Mulholland tells us how the change would discriminate against him and his friends with intellectual disability.

Transport are pressuring people to go online with things. There is a huge push to make everything online, but it doesn’t always work because not everyone can use technology.

Many of us don’t know how to use a smartphone and rely on ringing 131 500 to get trip planning information and top-up our opal card.

The people I speak to at 131 500 are really good, they make it easy to understand. The best thing is they give you the information at your pace, but soon they won’t be there.

Without this information, people like my friend Julie* won’t be able to get around because she has no smartphone, she’s not able to read and write.

It’s like they are saying Julie’s trip is not worth it anymore, so they are closing the door on her. Closing the door on accessible information that works for people.

Julie can’t top her opal card up online or at the station because she doesn’t know how to use an ATM card. She doesn’t know how to use cash or smartphone apps so she relies on people on the phone to help her and give her the information she needs.

For Julie and others, this is an important thing in their life. Without [the 131 500 phone line], they can’t access the community. There would be no one at the other end of the phone for Julie. It could mean more isolation from the community and it’s like we are being told they don’t care and unless you want to do it their way through apps, tough luck.

The apps aren’t easy to use, they aren’t easy to read or understand. They are complex with so many options and information.

Some people with intellectual disability just need someone to help them over the phone and tell them how to get from A to B.

Older people and people who don’t speak English very well will also struggle going online. There is a big number of people who will miss out.

Transport is our ticket to the world and freedom. Without transport, I couldn’t get around. I don’t have an alternative, I can’t drive.

I think Transport is making a big mistake if they think we can all go online, because not everyone can. I really hope transport will change their minds about this.

Update: The transport minister’s office has been responsive to our concerns and has confirmed that these 131 500 Opal phone services will remain for people with disability and others who need assistance. Transport for NSW has released updated information about the info line. Please read the document Top up and trip planning changes (PDF)

Key facts

  • Many people, including people with intellectual disability, don’t have access to the internet. About one in seven NSW households does not have internet access, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey. (Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2016-17)
  • The ABS survey also found that nearly 15 percent of people in NSW were not ‘internet users’ (they did not access the internet in the 3 months before the survey). That means about 911,800 people in NSW are not internet users.

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