Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking to you today, on the occasion
of this very exciting joint WIPO and ITU Workshop on Accessibility. ITU us very
pleased to collaborate with our neighbour WIPO, especially on this important
This is an excellent opportunity for the UN staff responsible for our
information and communications to profit from the knowledge of some of the
world’s leading experts in this field.
The phenomenal growth of ICTs has seen the birth of a dazzling array of new
technologies that can empower persons with all kinds of disabilities to take
active roles in mainstream society. For the moment, however, much of this
tremendous potential remains unrealized, or inaccessible to the people who need
At ITU, we often speak of the Digital Divide which is generally understood to be
the yawning gap that separates the wealthy few with access to modern ICTs from
those in the developing world who are still waiting to get connected.
However, ending the Digital Divide means the creation of digital inclusion for
everyone. And the divide that separates able-bodied people who can readily
harness the wonders of today’s technologies from those for whom ICTs remain out
of reach, because their special needs have not been accorded due consideration.
Ensuring easy and effective communication for those with disabilities is by no
means a ‘fringe issue’. However we find lack of industry participation in
accessibility is a problem. This is surprising when one considers that 10% of
the worlds population is disabled, many living in developing countries, and also
the growing elderly population especially in the developed countries. This
represents a huge and growing market.
ICTs have the great merit of serving as a powerful equalizer of abilities,
empowering persons with disabilities to fulfill their potential, realize their
own dreams and ambitions, and take their place as active members of the
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 which make new technologies accessible for persons
with disabilities are now becoming more of an imperative with the wide adoption
of the UN Convention.
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 for
guidance, and in particular the ITU as the lead UN Agency for ICTs.
ITU has achieved much in terms of accessibility across its three sectors –
radiocommunication, standardization and development. It would be impossible to
list all the standards, workshops and tutorials and accessibility groups that
ITU has initiated and continues to sponsor.
But for example, 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. 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 translate the
different protocols of the deaf telephone networks that already existed in many
We are very pleased that in 2008 the World Telecommunication and Information
Society Day recognised Andrea Saks as a laureate for her work on accessibility
and I am pleased she is with us this morning. She coordinates much of our
activity in this area.
I would like to highlight that as an organization ITU practices what it preaches
and is working hard to make itself more accessible to persons with disabilities.
For example, we provide assistance to disabled delegates to our meetings such as
captioning and sign language, wheel chair access etc.
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
This is why ITU will continue to work hard – around the world – as an advocate
to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities and help build an
inclusive information society for all.
And there is no better place to demonstrate our accessibility than the online
resources that act as our window to the world. This is why this workshop is so
We look forward to collaborating with WIPO on this important issue, now and in
In the words of the great Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we
can do so much.”
Thank you and I wish you a very successful and productive workshop.