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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Commonwealth E-Accessibility Ministerial Summit

Institute of the Directors, Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, London, UK, 30 August 2012


Honourable Ministers, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning, Firstly I would like to thank the UK’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO) for inviting ITU to participate in this event.

It is marvelous timing following the inspirational opening last night of the London 2012 Paralympics. I am sure we all congratulate UK for putting on such a tremendous show and I am sure a very successful Paralympics.

ITU is the lead UN Agency for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), with the mission to connecting the world. We work to make sure that ICTs are inclusive to all and that of course includes persons with disabilities.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly defines accessibility to ICTs as an imperative.

However despite the excellent work done by organizations such as CTO and ITU to raise awareness of this Convention and to promote accessibility to ICTs in general, the level of real commitment unfortunately does not match that of what is promised.

There is a need therefore to identify and agree on key priorities, and provide clear guidance, on how to mainstream accessibility in all aspects of ICT: product development; training; and implementation; to ensure that accessibility is not an afterthought of ICT policy, or something that needs to be expensively retrofitted to ICT products or services.

Unfortunately it continues to be a real challenge to mobilize resources, whether physical or financial, to advance this work.

In particular, our work to produce globally standardized solutions is important as this increases market size, improves interoperability, reduces complexity, and reduces costs.

I would therefore like to offer you the following three challenges for your consideration:

Firstly, we need more engagement in the standardization work of ITU.

ITU has, for a long time, taken into account accessibility in the development of its standards, and we encourage and facilitate the participation of persons with disabilities in this work.

We provide captioning at many of our meetings, as well as sign language and assistance to visually impaired.

We offer one full or two partial fellowships to delegates from eligible countries to all our study group meetings, and now have a greatly reduced membership fee for companies in certain low-income countries. In addition since the beginning of last year we now have academia membership at a very low fee and I am pleased to say we now have over 40 universities participating in our work.

However, while industry is often the originator of many of the accessibility features in our standards, industry has been slow to implement them. This is surprising given the size and growth of the market for accessible products and services. There are many proprietary standards however these can and do create barriers and obstacles to the creation of a global community of persons with disabilities.

So the second point I would like to make is that vendors and operators should be encouraged to offer products and services that meet international standards.

As you may know, ITU will hold a World Conference on International Telecommunication (WCIT-12) at the end of this year in Dubai.

This conference offers the opportunity to have enshrined in a global treaty (the International Telecommunication Regulations, ITRs) the principle that Member States encourage the provision of global services based on international standards that ensure accessible ICT services to persons with disabilities.

This new provision has been proposed by Hungary and if accepted would be the first time that the ITRs have recognized the needs of persons. I am sure Hungary would be very pleased to see Commonwealth countries supporting this proposal.

Thirdly, as I have mentioned, another challenge has been finding the resources needed. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2010 called for the establishment of a voluntary fund to support our activities in this area. Unfortunately only one country, Cyprus, has so far contributed to this fund. So I would very much like to encourage CTO members to contribute to this fund in order to support ITU’s activities to enable ICT accessibility.

In a world where one-in-seven people suffer from some kind of disability, we must make ICTs more accessible. To do so will be to profit from the incredible talent within this global community of enormously diverse people. And we only have to look to the Paralympics for proof of just what an enormous wealth of talent that is.

I congratulate CTO on this new initiative and I look forward to ITU continuing its excellent collaboration with CTO in this very important area.

Thank you