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Global Policy Forum on “ICT Accessibility: A New Frontier for Disability Rights”
Washington D.C., USA 15 November 2010
Ladies and gentlemen

I would like to thank the organisers for the invitation to talk to you about accessibility and the contribution of international standards, and the US leadership role in this area.

As the lead UN Agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), and one of the three international standards bodies for ICTs, ITU has a key role to play in accessibility for persons with disabilities

ITU with a membership of 192 governments and over 700 private sector entities, is well placed to address this issue. We rely on our industry members to develop the technical standards, so we rely on their interest in accessibility issues.

Providing accessible ICTs for persons with disabilities is not a ‘fringe issue’. 10% of the world’s population are persons with disabilities, many living in developing countries, plus a growing elderly population, especially in developed countries. Persons with disabilities now have the right to be included in new technological advances. This represents a huge and growing market that industry needs to address, not only on humanitarian grounds, but also because it has a huge and growing commercial potential.

ITU began work on the telecommunication standards for persons with disabilities back in 1991.

This standard was called ITU-T V.18 and was a brave attempt to create international interoperability for all text telephones worldwide.

The basis for this standard was the fact that, thanks to ITU standards, all telephones could call all other telephones globally.

Unfortunately today things are not so simple. For example, mobile cell phones often do not allow interoperability for video calls - so vital for deaf communication.

Proprietary standards are getting in the way of true accessibility for persons with disabilities and we need to return to the preeminence of international standards providing interoperability.

We cannot have interoperability and compatibility without cooperation from industry on an international basis using internationally recognized standards.

We have a new programme to address interoperability and conformity. We will launch a conformity database to show which products meet our standards, and we will test for interoperability between different manufacturers’ products. We hope to shortly establish a new group to coordinate this effort – it will be open to all interested parties.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Individuals make the difference. Fortunately, accessibility attracts very dedicated individuals to its cause. In ITU our accessibility effort began with an American telecommunications engineer named Dick Brandt who worked for AT&T.

Dick Brandt was the Vice Chairman of the ITU Study Group that became our present day Study Group 16 – the lead study group in ITU for accessibility.

It was Dick Brandt who brought into ITU another United States expert on European text telephony named Andrea Saks. Working together on the U.S. Delegations at ITU, they continued the accessibility work and encouraged many others to join them, in particular Cynthia Waddle here with us today. Now Accessibility is a household word at ITU.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As many of you may know, World Standards Day was dedicated this year to Accessibility.

This was a way to gain greater recognition for the contribution that international standards can play in bringing the benefits of accessible ICTs to the 650 million persons with disabilities around the globe.

The World Standards Cooperation (WSC) is a partnership between my organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) – the three international standards bodies for ICTs.

This strategic partnership helps us to respond to the demand for international standards as technologies converge and innovation brings new ways to work sustainably, economically, environmentally and socially.

We are keen to increase our dialogue with different stakeholders in this area: governments; industry; regulators; disability organizations; and standards developers. By working together we can raise awareness about the economic and social benefits of international standards.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides us with a global legal and policy framework for accessibility and information and communication technologies.

Member States now need to ensure that their national information infrastructure including telephony, emergency services, the Internet and broadcasting are all accessible. Universal Design principles, which make new technologies accessible for persons with disabilities, are now imperative.

This is not a simple task and so it is necessary to share experiences amongst all stakeholders. We hope this Global Forum will provide such an opportunity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to announce that at the recent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference held in Mexico, ITU adopted the first ever Resolution on accessibility and ICTs which endorses and reinforces the actions we have initiated in recent years.

And I am pleased to say, the U.S. Delegation led the negotiations to reach a consensus on this landmark accessibility Resolution.

Because of this Resolution, ITU will continue to strive to facilitate the active participation of persons with disabilities in our work, for example by providing captioning and sign language, access to information, and access for persons using wheelchairs, etc. And all our new standards have to be checked to ensure they meet accessibility criteria. Many of the new ICT devices to assist persons with disabilities need international standards to ensure interoperability.

Finding solutions to these challenges is not a simple matter. To assist us in providing these solutions ITU has launched a voluntary fund that will also provide fellowships for colleagues with disabilities to cover the costs they incur in travelling to and participating in our meetings. Please contact me if you are interested in contributing to this fund.

So ITU is very pleased to support G3ict and this Global Forum and similar events and activities around the world. Nothing is more rewarding than to help improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities, and build a truly inclusive digital society.

I wish you an informative and enjoyable event. Thank You.


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Updated : 2010-11-17