[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
The moderator of the session, Ms Andrea J Saks, ITU-T JCA-AHF chairman and International Telecommunications specialist for the deaf, presented the work of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) Joint Coordination Activity on Accessibility and Human Factors (JCA-AHF). Providing further details on the work, she mentioned that the JCA-AHF coordinates activities related to accessibility and human factors to avoid duplication of work, and to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities and persons with special needs are considered. She said that the workshop will focus on the accessibility work in the ITU and how it is coordinated by the ITU members. She mentioned that the workshop has speakers who have disabilities, which makes them the experts regarding whether the standards being created will work or not. It goes with the saying ‘Nothing about us without us’, she said.
Mr Beat Kleeb, from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) in Switzerland, presented the case for ‘Communication Access for Deaf Persons through Telephone Relay Services (TRS)’. Introducing himself as a deaf person, he mentioned that the number of people affected by deafness is often underestimated. He mentioned that the current statistics say that the total number of the population of the deaf worldwide stands at 70 million, with 466 million who are hard of hearing. He further mentioned that more than 15% of the world population and over a billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds. He termed the increased use of signing robots for communication with the deaf as ‘not effective’, as it only leads to a one-way communication. He suggested TRS as a better alternative. He mentioned that the ITU recommendation for the purpose is F.930 on multimedia telecommunication relay services, which should become a formal standard in the coming weeks.
Mr Tom Pey, from the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) in the UK, presented a case for ‘Turning aspiration into a worldwide reality with ITU-T F. 921 – an audio-based network navigation system for persons with vision impairment’. Stressing the challenges a blind person experiences in his or her life, he pointed out that ‘If you are born in the world with a sight loss or you develop it in early life, then you have a 90% chance of never working for more than six months of your life and 75% chance of living your entire adult life with extreme anxiety and or depression. In other words, you will grow up more than likely to be poor or lonely, just because you're blind’. He presented the story behind ‘Wayfindr’, the story of seven young blind people from London who approached the RSBC which helped them develop the open standard and mobile application based on voice navigation. He mentioned the development of the standard ITU-approved recommendation ITU-TF.921: an audio-based network navigation system for persons with vision impairment. This, he stated, is the world's first international standard for an accessible audio navigation system.
Mr Masahito Kawamori, from Keio University in Japan, stressed the need for standardisation and interoperability in his presentation. In response to a query about whether there were sufficient key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the progress made in terms of information and communication technology (ICT) inclusiveness policy, he mentioned that the progress is not sufficient. To quantify his comment on the slow progress he mentioned that currently only 20 out of the total 193 UN-listed countries provide TRS. He gave the further example of Paraguay, which stands at Rank #143 in terms of GDP, but spends significantly to provide TRS to the affected population. He termed the situation as ‘very interesting’, saying, ‘That’s not just a question of money, it is the effort and focus that matters.’
By Mohit Saraswat