Ms Roxana Widmer-Iliescu (Senior Programme Officer, Digital Inclusion Division and ITU-D Focal Point for ICT Accessibility [BDT/ITU]) moderated the session.
Dr Kemal Huseinović (Chief, Department of the Infrastructure, Enabling Environment and E-Applications Department [ITU-D]) said in his opening remark that one of the goals set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is to call for enabling accessible environments for all, including for persons with disabilities, by 2023. Making ICT accessibility a reality requires a combination of technical standards, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The ITU believes that the principles of universal design, availability, affordability, and equal opportunities to use accessible ICTs and assistive technologies are key for inclusive societies.
Ms Daniela Bas (Director, Division for Inclusive Social Development, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs [UN DESA]) said that the young generations today are learning a new, technological language, which threatens to leave older generations behind. Digital technology can play an incredible role when it comes to natural disasters, for e.g., by alarming people with disabilities through television, radio, computer, or mobile phones. Bas listed three elements of technology for the disabled:
- Technologies have to be accessible by persons with disabilities.
- Technologies have to be affordable for persons with disabilities.
- Technologies have to inclusive and support universal design.
Ms Inmaculada Placencia Porrero (Senior Expert, Disability and Inclusion Unit, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission) spoke about the adoption of the European Accessibility Act at the European level. The legislation gives clear obligations on accessibility and economic operators. An obligations has been put on 70 telecommunications, broadcasting, banking, e-commerce, etc. providers. There are also obligations for the public sector to have their websites accessible. She put forward three key elements of legislation policies:
- Direct obligations for businesses
- Obligations for public authorities,rewards for the industry
- Use of European funds
‘Accessibility of technology is a global requirement.’ concluded Porrero.
Dr Miguel Ángel Valero Duboy (Director, Ceapat-Imserso, Ministry for Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare, Spain). Ceapat-Imserso has over 2000 accessible technologies. Duboy said that the challenge is to provide the population with emerging assistive technologies, especially to those in need of specific devices.
Ceapat-Imserso provides free advice to companies and universities, and is also considered as a reference center. Duboy said that there are three pillars important for ICT accessibility: education, employment, and entertainment (television, video games, mobile phones). Duboy said that accessibility is a definitive condition for a more equal world.
Mr Adolfo Cuevas Teja (Commissioner, Federal Telecommunications Institute of Mexico) stated that the reformed constitution from 2013 in Mexico has recognised ICTs as fundamental human rights. About 7% of people in Mexico have some type of disability. Operators have the obligation to be accessible in terms of fixed and mobile services, and to ensure there are people in their call centers who are able to explain rights to persons with disabilities. Teja says that the main goal is to work together in order to ensure everyone enjoys equality and full inclusion.
Dr Abeer Shakweer ( Advisor for Social Responsibility and Services, Ministry of ICT, Egypt) said that Egypt is paying unprecedented attention to persons with disabilities. According to Shakweer, the ministry of ICT was one of the first entities to develop a national strategic strategy for people with disabilities. They are planning on launching the first national relay center by the end of this year. At the top of their agenda is access to education. Egypt is working with Japan to use technology for persons with print disabilities and with the UK to establish an innovation hub at otheir academy for persons with disabilities. Their first strategy was focused on infrastructure and qualified human resources. Today, they are involving ICTs for disabled persons in the mainstream projects of the ministry.
Mr Shadi Abou-Zahra (Accessibility Strategy and Technology Specialist, World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]) said that accessibility is a change in society and it cannot be solely the government’s responsibility. For necessary implementations, it needs multistakeholder approach. Because disabilities do not stop at borders, aligning and harmonising regionally and globally is crucial. Using existing standards saves a lot of time and effort which can be invested in other areas for development. There are three main challenges: lack of awareness, lack of training, and lack of understanding. Abou-Zahra underlined the importance of making the word ‘accessibility’ more tangible and relatable. This is important for designers, developers, and managers who are responsible for developing and implementing educational processes which embed accessibility in programmes.
Mr Ricardo Garcia (International Expert in ICT Accessibility) considers important to issue a number of recommendations in order to make accessibility more visible, standardised, and normalised. He put forward two recommendations:
- The existence and use of minimum standards is critical, and makes it possible for people to use developed technology.
- Involving all stakeholders is crucial, especially the private sector and academia, because
- technologies are being developed by companies, and academia plays a main role in education.
Garcia noted that every country will need a strategy, policy, and implementation through laws. He said that processes cannot be realised without including people with disabilities.
By Aida Mahmutović