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 ITU Workshop “Global Internet Access for Persons with Disabilities” at 4th IGF Meeting
 Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt 16 November 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning,

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 all.

I’ll start by saying a very few words on ITU.

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 workshop.

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 disabilities.

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 affordable prices.

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 developing countries.

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 developing countries.

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.

 

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