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In her introductory statement, session chair Dr Eun-Ju Kim (Chief of Innovation and Partnership Department, ITU) emphasised access to and access through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a human right. Prof. Katherine Seelman (Associate Dean of Disability Programs, University of Pittsburgh) raised a similar point when she argued that it is important to now work on operationalising the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The sustainable development goals (SDGs) were an important point of reference for all panellists. Mr Mosharraf Hossain (Director of Global Policy, Influencing and Research, ADD International) pointed out that the millennium development goals (MDGs) did not include persons with disabilities (PWDs). In contrast, the SDGs mention PWDs in several goals. Points of particular importance are inclusive education, access to employment, and reducing inequality (SDGs 4, 8, 16). Another key theme was the relation between disability and poverty. Hossain and Seelman stressed that PWDs are more likely to become poor and stay poor and that disability and poverty present a double burden.
Mr Arnt Holte (CEO of the Norwegian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted) suggested a re-thinking of the slogan ‘no one left behind’. Instead of compensating after a new technology has been developed, the needs of PWDs should be considered when new software and new devices are being developed. Holte stressed that ICT is crucial for PWDs, enabling access to goods and services, employment and education, democratic processes, and political influence. While many ICT solutions to support accessibility already exist, Holte also stressed the need to bring costs down.
Ms Judy Brewer (Director, Web Accessibility Initiative, World Wide Web Consortium) added to this by focusing her presentation on accessibility through digital technology and creating enabling environments. Examples included remote access to health services and direct participation in commerce and business opportunities through ICT. She argued that ICT thus can help to create an enabling environment across all sectors and inclusive and just societies.
Dr Ed Boden (JP Morgan Chase & Co.) spoke on technology for social good and gave the example of the project Code for Good, which JP Morgan supports. As part of this project, digital technology is developed and used to counter the lack of data on disabilities. This lack of data, he argued, inhibits effective monitoring of and tracking progress towards the SDGs. Similarly, Prof. Jennifer Madans (UN Statistical Commission Washington Group on Disability Statistics) focused on ICT as an opportunity to collect data, to add disaggregated data to existing statistics, and to identify PWDs. The Washington Group provides tools, which can be added to ongoing data collection in order to provide information on PWDs with the hope of improving monitoring and implementation.
Mr Mustafizur Rahman (Joint Secretary of the Government and Director of Innovation of A2I, Prime Minister’s Office, Bangladesh) and Dr Abeer Shakweer, (Minister's Advisor for Social Responsibility and Services, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Egypt) provided examples from Bangladesh and Egypt, respectively. Rahman spoke about the Service Innovation Fund, which provides opportunities for non-state actors and individuals to submit innovative ideas to increase access and inclusion for PWDs, and plans for the Disability Innovation Lab, which aims to use ICT to make sure that no one is left behind. Shakweer spoke about Egypt’s strategy for empowering PWDs. She pointed out that assisted technology for PWDs needs innovation to make sure the technology is available, suitable, and affordable. Some tools are also not available in the Arab language.
The panellists stressed the importance of including PWDs in the process at all stages, from consultation and innovation to implementation. Public-private partnerships for ICT innovations that increase access for PWDs were also emphasised. The panel as a whole linked ICT to improved access, social justice, and providing crucial data on progress.
by Katharina Hoene