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ITU Workshop on Accessibility
 Bamako, Mali  13 - 15 October 2009 
ITU Workshop on Accessibility
Bamako, Mali, 13-15 October 2009

Keynote Speech

Malcolm Johnson
Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau
International Telecommunication Union

Honourable Minister
CEO of the CTO
Excellencies
Distinguished delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here in Mali. It is my first time as Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau…

Please let me take this opportunity to thank, very much, our hosts, the administration of Mali and in particular the honourable minister H.E. Mrs Diarra Mariam Diallo for being here. Also, I would like to thank Dr. Choguel Kokalla Maiga, General Director of the Committee of the Regulatory Authority for his presence here today.

It is very appropriate that we are holding this workshop during the month of solidarity for the disabled in Mali.

ITU joins with Mali in its solidarity for the disabled.

Indeed, around the world, momentum is building for initiatives that allow persons with disabilities to take their rightful place in society.

As the Secretary General mentioned in his video address; 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.

Universal Design principles in standards make new technologies accessible for persons with disabilities and are now imperative with the wide adoption of the UN Convention.

Tackling the issue of accessibility too late in the product design cycle adds unnecessary cost, as does the absence of policies that could help encourage mass production of accessible devices. It is hoped that the UN Convention will redress this problem, and spur new opportunities that will encourage the private sector to channel more investment into this domain.

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.

Although V.18 was agreed in 1995 implementation levels were never high. It was however a beginning for 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, due to this lack of industry implementation. It is a problem that still exists, not just for text telephony and other accessibility features, but also for accessible web and ICTs.

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 later today on the JCA and some of its activities.

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).

And, 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), represented here by Asenath Mpatwa, 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 - represented here by Executive Director, Axel Leblois - 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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