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 Wednesday, 24 November 2010
An international workshop on accessibility has identified priority areas where the development of International Standards could ease the lives of the estimated 650 million people worldwide with some form of accessibility problem.

The workshop “Accessibility and the contribution of International Standards” was organized on 3 to 5 November 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland, by the World Standards Cooperation (WSC), which is the focal point for strategic cooperation set up by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). A core objective of the workshop was to lay the groundwork for a road map of future initiatives on accessibility standards and related support for these standards, with the involvement of the key stakeholders.

After three days of input and discussion, the recommendations were viewed as highest priority for consideration by the WSC organizations:
  • Establish a "Strategic Advisory Group on Accessibility” between the WSC organizations
  • Develop a common accessibility policy between the WSC organizations
  • Encourage national members of the WSC organizations to actively promote the implementation of accessibility standards
  • Strengthen WSC organization linkages with the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and with disabilities organizations
  • Revise ISO/IEC Guide 71: 2001, Guidelines for standards developers to address the needs of older persons and persons with disabilities, to ensure consistent concepts in the area of accessibility
  • Identify accessibility-related content in proposed new standards of the WSC organizations
The workshop – which was supported by sign language interpretation – explored how International Standards could strengthen accessibility aspects in the design of products, services, environments and facilities. Break-out groups addressed the following subjects:
  • Accessibility and everyday products
  • Accessibility and buildings
  • eAccessibility and eInclusion
The workshop was opened by Rob Steele, ISO Secretary-General; Malcolm Johnson, Director, ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, and  Gabriel Barta, Head of Technical Coordination, IEC Central Office, representing the IEC General Secretary.
Welcoming the participants, Rob Steele, highlighted the importance of identifying and understanding the areas where standards are needed and where the three organizations can work together. He said: “There are particular benefits and opportunities in using the standards process to gather representatives from a diversity of interests who may not usually meet together to discuss and resolve accessibility issues. The issue requires input from government, regulators, policy makers, industry, accessibility equipment providers, civil society NGOs, accessibility organizations, academia and researchers.
Malcolm Johnson, Director, ITU Telecommunication standardization Bureau, declared: “The recent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference held in Mexico adopted the first ever Resolution on ICTs and accessibility which endorses and reinforces the actions we have initiated in recent years: facilitating the active participation of persons with disabilities in our work, for example by providing captioning and sign language, and wheel chair access etc.  All our new standards have to be checked to ensure they meet accessibility criteria. Many of the new ICT devices to assist persons with disabilities need international standards to ensure interoperability."
Gabriel Barta, Head of technical coordination, IEC Central Office, stated: "At the IEC, the need of persons with temporary or permanent disabilities are taken very seriously. We have issued at free guide that helps standards developers and manufacturers to build those needs into their work. We're delighted at the very positive outcome and the many promising directions that have been identified in the workshop, and look forward to seeing them implemented."
Participants in the workshop agreed that as a background to the recommendations, they wished to underline that “Accessibility” is not limited to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities, elderly people or persons with temporary impairments, but aims at the usability of a product, service, environment or facility by people with the widest range of capabilities.
Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, service, environment or facility is usable by as many people as possible, including by persons with disabilities. Its importance is underlined by the fact that the number of persons with disabilities, either congenital, acquired or as a result of age is estimated to be around 650 million worldwide. International standardization can be a powerful tool for strengthening accessibility in all the above areas by setting the same standards for use worldwide.
Key stakeholder groups participating in the Geneva workshop included disability organizations and consumer groups, governments and regulators, product designers, manufacturers and industry addressing accessibility needs, and standards developers from around the world. Under discussion were the current and future needs in the field of accessibility, as well as the possible contributions international standardization can make in facilitating the development of accessible solutions around the world.
Among those attending the opening plenary were: Wan Hea Lee, on behalf of Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Convention for the rights of persons with disabilities; Imed Eddine Chaker, International Disability Alliance, represented through the Arab Organization of Disabled Persons, Chairman of the Tunisian National Union of the Blind (UNAT); Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission, Unit for the Integration of People with Disabilities, and Joan Durocher (USA), Executive Director, US National Council on Disability.

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