Digital inclusion – nobody should be without a voice!


Day of Persons with Disabilities: Diakonie and VERBUND focus on the right to communication and access to Assistive Technologies.

The VERBUND Empowerment Fund of Diakonie has been supporting the individual counselling of around 6,000 people with disabilities on the possibilities of Assisted Communication and Assistive Technology since 2009.

About 63,000 people living in Austria have a restricted ability to speak. To communicate they require aids that are precisely tailored to their needs. To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, Diakonie and VERBUND highlight gaps and problems accessing Supported Communication and Assistive Technologies.

Katharina (12) conquers the world with eye control

12 year-old Katharina Panholzer has used so-called eye control for PC and text-to-speech software since she was at kindergarten. Now aged 12, she has learned not only how to speak, write and do arithmetic; with eye control, she can also pursue her interests.

“If something particularly interests me, then I look on the Internet to see if I can find anything about it. I have a keen interest in horses. I go riding once a week. With the tablet, I can also listen to music, watch videos and read books on the Kindle app all on my own – otherwise, somebody would always have to hold the book for me and turn the pages. And I can use WhatsApp on my mobile,” says Katharina Panholzer at a press conference with the help of her computer voice.

“When I once said to Katharina that she actually only learned to speak properly from the third year at primary school – when she could read write very well – she said: but I could already do that. I always hear my voice. In my head!” says Nina Panholzer, who accompanied her daughter to Vienna. “That’s what it feels like for people without spoken language, who have scarcely any means of communication and participation without the necessary technical aids. Unimaginable, really.”

Being well supported with Assisted Communication is essential

"To mark the Day of Persons with Disabilities, we once again draw attention to the difference the right aids can make to the life of a person living with disabilities. In fact, examples like Kathi show us the possibilities that assistive technologies offer and why being well supported with the right aids is essential," says Diakonie director Maria Katharina Moser. "Because technology makes a self-determined life possible for people with speech limitations."

VERBUND demands: red tape must be slashed

"In Austria, the way to getting the right aids is complicated, opaque and drawn-out," criticises the Diakonie director. Many offices at provincial and federal level are involved in the application. For the affected persons, however, time is often in short supply if they have illnesses with advancing symptoms, for example.

"Children need the aids to learn to speak, so the time factor is also critical here. Every day they have to wait is one day too many," adds Michael Strugl, CEO of VERBUND AG. "The long-term objective of the VERBUND Empowerment Fund of Diakonie is to establish a legal entitlement to the financing of assistive technologies for people with disabilities," says Strugl.

"A legal entitlement must, alongside the financing of the aids themselves, also cover central points of contact in all federal provinces, where the application and approval can be processed quickly and unbureaucratically, as well as advice, so that the affected persons get the aids that are right for them and also learn how to use them."

The financing of aids is a matter for the public sector

This year, implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Austria was checked by the UN Committee of Experts in Geneva. The result was lacking. A central point of criticism raised by the check concerned the lack of opportunities for persons with disabilities to participate in life.

The call for the right to communication is aimed precisely at that, says Moser:

"It’s about the right to get the necessary technical aids in order to be able to communicate." In order to implement this legal right, the Minister of Social Affairs and Health was approached with a proposal for third-party financing:

"For transparent, uniform, nationwide financing of the aids for Assisted Communication, a fund could be set up that is supported by the government, provinces and social security schemes. The Health Minister was receptive to this proposal and expressed an interest in it. We hope that he can also win over the provinces; it is high time that something was done in this area," emphasises Moser.

Donations plug supply gap

The gap in supply that the welfare state leaves open in this area currently has to be closed with donations. Thus the VERBUND Empowerment Fund of Diakonie has been supporting the individual counselling of around 6,000 people with disabilities on the possibilities of Assisted Communication and Assistive Technology since 2009.

Almost 12,000 educators, therapists and immediate family members have been sensitised and informed at over 1,000 workshops and seminars. The fund also supports the early support of children and provides immediate help with the purchase of assistive technologies.

Background information on the subject

About 63,000 people in Austria live with speech disabilities (including their family members, the figure is around 250,000). In order for these people to exercise their right to communication and live the most self-determined life possible, they need a range of assistive aids:

• Simple electronic aids (like a keyboard) as well as non-electronic aids

• Complex electronic communication devices (like eye control)

• Aids for accessing the computer (mouth-operated mouse, holders)

• Special software (e.g. for speech output)


Ingun Metelko Ingun Metelko

Company Spokesperson

Send email