Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

3rd Annual International Conference on ICT4PWDs: Inclusion, Empowerement and Participation

Cairo, Egypt, 21 April 2014

Text to accompany presentation

​Salam alaikum!
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 

Let me start by thanking His Excellency Minister Engineer Atef Helmy for inviting ITU to participate in this important event, and let me also applaud Egypt for its considerable contribution to enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities through ICTs. ITU very much appreciates the excellent collaboration with Egypt in this area, and I bring greetings from the Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré and my fellow elected officials.

Since I was first elected in 2006 one of my main objectives has been to mainstream accessibility in ITU and in particular in the Standardization Sector, so it is a great pleasure for me to be with you today.

For those of you new to ITU I will give a brief introduction to the organization.

ITU is the world’s oldest international organization, having been founded in Paris in 1865 to address the problems of cross-border interoperability of the telegraph service.

Now ITU is the lead UN agency for ICTs.

It is Headquartered in Geneva with a Liaison Office in New York and Regional Offices in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Brasilia and here in Cairo.

As a UN specialized agency, ITU works in 6 languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

ITU has a staff of around 750 from over 100 countries.ITU is unique as a UN agency in having a large private-sector membership – over 600 private sector entities as well as civil society, academia (over 60 universities), regulatory bodies, other intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and our 193 Member States.

ITU has a federated structure with 3 sectors supported by the General Secretariat; and five elected officials: the Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General and three Directors.

ITU-R maintains an international treaty on the use of radio spectrum and satellite orbital resources, with world conferences approximately every 4 years.

ITU-D assists the development of ICTs in developing countries by:

  • Encouraging multi-stakeholder partnerships and resource mobilization
  • Acting as executing agency for project implementation
  • Building capacity among members, providing technical assistance and advice on policy-regulatory frameworks

ITU-T has three strategic goals:

  • Develop non-discriminatory, interoperable, international standards (ITU-T Recommendations)
  • Bridge the standardization gap: encourage developing country participation
  • Cooperate with other standardization bodies

Many of you use ITU standards every day without knowing it. You would not be able to make a phone call or access the Internet without using ITU standards.

The Primetime Emmy in the picture was awarded to ITU for the video coding standard, ITU-T H.264, which is now used to code over 80% of online video.

Turning to accessibility, here are some shocking statistics: more than 1 billion people worldwide have some form of disability; 8% of these live in low-income countries. In these countries 90% of children with disability do not have access to schools.

Recognizing that ICTs are a powerful equalizer of abilities, empowering persons with disabilities to fulfill their potential, the U Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities obliges signatories to provide public information in formats appropriate for different kinds of disabilities.

ITU champions principles of Universal Design enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, includes accessibility features in all of its standards, has a strong advocacy focus, and holds regular workshops throughout the world.

The picture shows Mr. Delmonte, who was paralyzed from the neck down by an accident at work, demonstrating how he is able to operate a laptop with head movements in front of 1000 delegates at the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) in Johannesburg in 2008, setting-up a Skype call to his daughter in Italy. He told me that before he was introduced to the power of ICTs he was suicidal, but now, thanks to his laptop, he is again enjoying life. 

ITU-D works closely with the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) and has developed a set of resources available to the membership.

ITU-D’s work on accessibility will be presented in detail by Susan Schorr this afternoon.

It also addresses national broadcasting authorities on TV accessibility.

While ITU-T works on the standards to ensure audiovisual media accessibility, ITU-D encourages an enabling environment so that stakeholders take action to make it happen. 

Government, parliamentarians, broadcast policy makers and regulators have a role to play in ensuring accessible TV becomes a reality.

The policy recognizes that accessible TV is being facilitated by the migration to digital broadcasting, which makes it possible to offer closed-captioning and various channels for audio description. 

Without ITU standards it would not be possible to make a call to anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world - international interoperability was, and still is, the raison d’etre for ITU.

Interoperability ensures international communications, reduces costs through economies of scale and increases efficiencies.

And the ITU Patent Policy encourages innovation while ensuring that anyone, anywhere, can produce products and services to ITU standards.

It is important that these standards are accessible and so, in 2008, ITU-T introduced an accessibility checklist for all of its new standards.

If we are making our standards accessible, we need persons with disabilities to contribute to the work, so ITU-T introduced captioning in many of its meetings - to everyone's benefit.

We also provide sign language, and assistance for blind delegates.

We now offer remote participation in many of our meetings – over 600 meetings last year with over 3000 remote delegates, and we offer fellowships to assist with the cost of travel.

Thanks to the inspiration of Mr. Delmonte, ITU considerably increased its activities on accessibility after 2008 and the WTSA was the first ITU conference to adopt a Resolution on accessibility that encourages more work on accessibility, developing best practices, increasing facilities for delegates with disabilities, and placing special emphasis on assisting developing countries in collaboration with other organizations.

ITU was the first international standards body to address accessibility issues – back in 1991 – and adopted the first international standard on accessibility in 1994 - the international text telephone standard.  Recommendation ITU-T V.18 was a major landmark, tying together text telephone protocols to allow different – previously incompatible – textphones in different countries to communicate.

Since then, ITU-T has incorporated accessibility requirements into a range of standards including those for multimedia and Next-generation Networks (NGN).

In particular, ITU’s IPTV suite of standards has many accessibility features.

ITU interoperability events ensure that equipment from different manufacturers can interoperate, and a conformance database will list products meeting ITU standards.

Probably the best-known ITU accessibility standard was the bump on the digit 5 on mobile phones.

A more recent standard is ITU-T F.703, which we call Total Conversation as it transfers real-time video, text and voice.

Examples of current work include: defining terminology used for accessibility; defining the architecture, user requirements and functionality of the relay service; mobile media; improving the intelligibility of voice; and guidelines for captioning and sign language in audiovisual content.

ITU holds a World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) every year and, in 2008, it was held here in Cairo with the theme, “Connecting Persons with Disabilities: ICT Opportunities for All”. It helped raise awareness of the role of ICTs, and one of the laureates was Andrea Saks, a key person working on accessibility in ITU.

Last year ITU contributed to the report entitled, “The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework”, based on feedback from a global consultation carried out in support of the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development which took place at UN Headquarters in New York in September.

It contributes to a better understanding of the extent to which ICTs can enable the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities.

It lists challenges that are still to be addressed, while outlining concrete actions to help achieve a disability-inclusive development agenda.

The High-Level Meeting resulted in an action-oriented Outcome Document in support of development goals for persons with disabilities and agreed actions to be taken by the global community, in particular in promoting Universal Design and facilitating access to accessible and assistive technologies.

So how to contribute to ITU? Contributions are from the ITU membership and the work is consensus-driven.

Participation can be either physical or remote.

ITU’s activities on accessibility are coordinated by the Joint Coordination Activity on Accessibility and Human Factors (JCA-AHF).

You can participate in the numerous workshops held worldwide – focusing on mainstreaming accessibility and the promotion of Universal Design.

We also hold showcasing events similar to the event here today.

One such event was held with the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and ASTEM of Japan at ITU Headquarters last February, showcasing several newly developed applications for persons with disabilities. I am sure that you recognize the faces in the picture.

[Mohammad El-Megharbel, Bothaina Esmat Kama, Andrea Saks, Malcolm Johnson, Abeer F. Shakweer, and Masahito Kawamori]

ITU invites you to work with us to make this technology accessible to all, including persons with disabilities and specific needs, so that ITU truly fulfills its mission to ‘Connect the World’.