ITU Workshop “Global Internet Access for Persons with Disabilities” at 4th IGF Meeting
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
||16 November 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Malcolm Johnson, I am an elected official in the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU), the lead UN agency for information and
communication technologies (ICTs).
On behalf of ITU, the Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability and
the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) I would like to thank and welcome you
I’ll start by saying a very few words on ITU.
• coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum,
• promotes international coordination on use of satellite orbits,
• assists developing countries to improve their ICT infrastructure
• assigns numbers for use in telecommunication networks
• develops global ICT standards that foster seamless interconnection of a
vast range of ICT communications systems and addresses the challenges of our
times, such as cybersecurity, mitigating climate change and of course the
subject of this workshop... accessibility.
Accessibility is an important focus of ITU’s work. Just last month I was in
Mali, during their month of solidarity for the disabled and another ITU
Around the world, momentum is building for initiatives that allow persons
with disabilities to take their rightful place in society.
In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities, which obliges its signatories to provide public
information in formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of
It is expected that the UN Convention will make assistive ICT technologies
as common as wheelchair ramps and audible signals for traffic lights.
Assistive technologies include screen readers (which read content from
websites out loud for the visually impaired), captioning or sign language on
television for the deaf, cell phones that include features such as special
volume control, large character touch pads and predictive text features and
auditory SMS messages for the blind as well as the adoption of accessible
website design by both the public and private sectors.
Industry and governments need to understand that persons with disabilities
not only need to be included but have a right to be included in the new
technological achievements and advances of our time. This is especially
important for developing countries that look to the developed world and to
ITU for guidance.
As the world’s pre-eminent global ICT standards organization, ITU is
embracing the challenges of accessibility through standardization efforts
and has long championed the principles of inclusion and Universal Design
enshrined in the UN Convention.
The ITU began its work on accessibility for persons with disability in 1991.
It started with one standard called V.18 – a modem that could invisibly
translate the different protocols of the deaf telephone network that already
existed in many different countries.
This was the beginning of ITU’s path towards including accessibility
features in its standards and its role as a strong accessibility advocate.
Indeed, advocacy has become the thrust of ITU accessibility today
Lack of industry implementation is a problem.
Finding solutions to these challenges is not always a simple matter. On the
one hand, equipment and software is now available that provides amazing
breakthroughs for people with disabilities. On the other hand, there are
many barriers to finding the most appropriate equipment, particularly at
In 2008 we established a new ITU group to coordinate standardization
activities on accessibility and human factors issues. It is called the joint
coordination activity on accessibility and human factors (JCA-AHF) and is
open to all experts working in the field to improve access to the
information society by people with varied capability of handling information
and the controls for its presentation.
We are very pleased that in 2008 the coordinator of this group Andrea Saks
was made a laureate by the World Telecommunication and Information Society
Day. She will speak after me and give more details on this session.
Also in 2008, ITU took the initiative to establish the Dynamic Coalition on
Accessibility and Disabilities that met for the first time last year at the
Internet Governance Forum (IGF), in Hyderabad. The second meeting will take
place in Room 6, Alexandria at 1400 today.
Also, at last year’s Global Standards Symposium in Johannesburg, where we
had leaders of industry, government ministers, heads of regulatory bodies
and standards bodies, accessibility to ICT services was recognised as a
major enabler to economic and social development especially since a
significant percentage of persons with disabilities are poor and live in
This event was followed by the World Telecommunication Standardization
Assembly (WTSA-08) which adopted a historic Resolution the first ITU
Resolution recognising the importance of the work on accessibility and
mandating ITU to document best practice, review its services and facilities
for accessibility, and to work on programmes to progress accessibility in
In our Development sector (ITU-D), Guidelines for mainstreaming ICT
accessibility issues provide a catalogue of commercially available
accessibility technologies that enable access to ICTs and consider the
socio-economic barriers that limit their world-wide availability. It is
available free on our website.
In addition, ITU and G3ict have developed an on-line toolkit for policy
makers, regulators and other stakeholders to develop policies and strategies
addressing ICT accessibility in line with the UN Convention.
We also have a number of projects to equip schools and multi-purpose
community telecentres with assistive devices such as Braille printers to
extend ICT services to persons with disabilities.
So you see accessibility is a priority for ITU and we are committed to
addressing this important issue in partnership with many other organisations,
and many dedicated experts. I am very pleased that we have such excellent
speakers with us today.
I would like to thank all the speakers and the many people involved in the
organizing of this event and I wish you a rewarding and enjoyable workshop.