Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you here in Washington this morning for the m-enabling summit – which is being organized by G3ict, the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs, in cooperation with the Federal Communications Commission, and ITU, the United Nations Specialized Agency for ICTs.
At ITU, we are committed to connecting the world, and I am pleased to be able to report that – thanks to mobile technologies – we have largely achieved this objective, with close to six billion mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide and 2.3 billion Internet users.
ICTs are now within reach of almost all the world’s people, even those in the poorest, most rural and most isolated regions in the world.
But there is still one very large segment of society which is under-served and under-connected.
I am referring of course to the one billion people with disabilities of some kind or another, who face accessibility issues.
These include: complex human interfaces which can be hard to use for those with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities; a lack of alternatives for people with poor eyesight or hearing; and handset ergonomics which simply weren’t designed for persons with physical disabilities.
The majority of persons living with disabilities are often ‘invisible’ –either because their disabilities are not immediately obvious, or because they have fewer opportunities to interact in everyday social life.
But just because people are less visible does not mean they don’t have the same ‘right to communicate’ as everyone else.
On Saturday we all celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It is therefore timely and appropriate here in Washington today to look at ways in which technology – and especially mobile technologies – can be made more accessible.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At ITU, we take accessibility issues very seriously, and have been working hard over the past years to address the issues from a number of different angles – and particularly through the work of our Standardization and Development Sectors.
All of our work in this area is designed to help achieve the goal of equitable communications for everyone, with a focus on accessible design, availability, and affordability:
- Accessible design means that accessibility has to be built in into products and services from the very beginning;
- Availability means that accessible products and services must be available to everyone who needs them; and
- Affordability means that accessible products and services must be reasonably priced.
The ITU’s Standardization Sector has been working at improving ICT accessibility standards for some years. Indeed, several of our ITU-T Study Groups are now working on Human Factors and Accessibility, and all of our Study Groups use an accessibility checklist when starting work on new standards.
The creation and adoption of international telecommunication standards helps to promote the development of assistive products and services that are interoperable on a global basis.
These can be simple improvements such as standardizing telephone service pictograms, symbols and icons, or more complex ones, such as defining the requirements for sign language and lip reading in video materials.
In our accessibility standardization work, I must pay tribute to the United States delegation, whose leadership and contributions have been – and continue to be – hugely appreciated.
In this regard, I am particularly looking forward to attending this morning’s session on ‘21st Century Communications and the Video Accessibility Act’.
Let me also encourage you to join our ITU Standardization sessions here in Washington tomorrow, where you will be able to see presentations of the broad range of our accessibility activities.
Turning now to ITU’s Development Sector, we also do valuable accessibility work here in:
- Helping our Members States understand and meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
- Encouraging the exchange of best practice;
- Helping to develop and promote policy guidelines and provide policy advice;
- Developing pioneering projects such as a text-to-speech engine in the Mongolian language; and
- Creating greater awareness through conferences and publications.
A good example of this last activity is the new thematic report we have just published, in cooperation with G3ict, on ‘Making TV Accessible’ which is available for free download from ITU’s website.
The report was prepared by Peter Olaf Looms, Chairman of the ITU-T Focus Group on Audiovisual Media Accessibility. It looks at ways in which this near-ubiquitous technology – televisions are present in virtually all households in the developed world and three quarters of those in the developing world – can be made more accessible.
Television is going digital, and I firmly believe the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting represents an excellent opportunity for ITU members to take the necessary steps to ensure TV is accessible.
Another very positive result of our cooperation with G3ict has been the development and launch last year of the ‘e-accessibility policy toolkit for policy makers’ – which has already become a primary reference in matters of ICT accessibility among international policy makers.
The policy toolkit was developed with the participation of over 65 experts from around the world, many of whom are in the room here today, and I would like to express my sincere appreciation for this remarkable collaborative work across borders.
Finally, I would like to highlight one more publication, entitled ‘Making Mobile Phones and Services Accessible for Persons with Disabilities.’ An electronic draft of this report will be distributed by ITU and G3ict this afternoon, and it will be updated and published shortly after the Summit to incorporate key findings.
I think we can all agree that sharing good practices and solutions that work to benefit anyone with a disability is a necessity for all stakeholders.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – ratified by 106 countries and signed by 154 – clearly defines ICT accessibility as an imperative.
Indeed, the majority of ITU Member States have ratified the Convention and now seek to actively ensure that mobile accessibility and mobile assistive solutions are widely available and affordable. This m-Enabling Summit will help ITU members to meet this vital goal.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me close by emphasizing the power of partnership.
Through partnership, we are here, today, and I am delighted that G3ict took the initiative in getting us all together to collaborate on this important summit.
Getting all the stakeholders together to share solutions which are workable and sustainable from both a technical and business standpoint is beneficial to all.
It also allows us to look at how policies, incentives and regulations can support the development of a successful eco-system dedicated to mobile accessibility and mobile assistive technologies.
Last but not least, in a world where one in seven people suffers from some kind of disability, we must make ICTs not just more accessible in themselves, but also leverage the incredible power of ICTs to drive sustainable social and economic progress – for all the world’s people, and especially those with disabilities.