The role of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the design of innovative digital solutions to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, were among the top takeaways from two major ITU events, which championed ICT (Information Communication Technologies) accessibility in the Americas and Europe regions.
Through the Digital Inclusion Programme, ITU supports its members in their efforts to empower all people – regardless of gender, age, ability, or location – by promoting ICT accessibility to create a more equitable and inclusive digital society. ITU develops resources and strengthens the capacity of members to implement ICT accessibility for digital inclusion policies and strategies, which ensure that no one is left behind in the digital age.
“Delivering on the promise of the digital economy means to leave no one behind," said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “We at ITU believe that the principles of universal design, equal opportunities to accessible ICTs and assistive technologies are key to building inclusive societies."
“Promoting digital accessibility is part of our commitment to leaving no one behind," says Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau. “With the world becoming ever more digital, accessibility to ICTs must be one of our most urgent priorities. These collaborative regional platforms bring together a broad community of expert stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society, and are an effective way of accelerating progress towards building a more inclusive information society."
Key topics discussed during the two events included: the role of artificial intelligence; accessibility in education; the development of digital skills for work; ICT accessibility as a business opportunity; procurement and standards; digital innovation ecosystem for assistive technologies; web accessibility; women in ICT; and the future of accessible audio-visual media services.
The Accessible Americas event, held in Quito, Ecuador, from 20 to 22 November, highlighted the role artificial intelligence can play in giving persons with disabilities unbiased access to digital technologies. Participants also identified ICT accessibility best practices to help improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities without discrimination.
The Accessible Americas event was organised jointly with the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Society (MINTEL), Ecuador and the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA).
In his remarks at the event, Andrés Michelena, Ecuador's Minister of Telecommunication and Information Society said, “Accessible Americas provides a unique platform to share innovative ideas and projects that will enable persons with disabilities greater access to digital technologies. In Ecuador, we are developing the Digital Ecuador Policy, which will encourage the development of digital products and services accessible to persons with disabilities in areas such as e-health, e-learning and e-commerce. Only with equitable access to ICTs can we build a truly inclusive society in the Americas."
At the Accessible Europe event, held in St Julian, Malta, from 4 to 6 December, participants addressed the future of ICT accessibility in reducing inequalities, and also shared views and expertise on ways to advance the ICT accessibility agenda in the European Region.
The Accessible Europe event was jointly organized with the European Commission (EC), and hosted by the Malta Parliamentary Secretariat for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing (PSDAA).
Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality said, “Accessibility of ICT for persons with disabilities is not a marginal issue, it touches the basis of our democracy and the fairness and openness of our society." She added, “let us exploit the potential of the European Accessibility Act and other EU tools, legislation, policy and funding to scale up efforts to make digital products and services more accessible to persons with disabilities."
Anthony Agius Decelis, Malta's Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability & Active Ageing, said: “We should never forget those groups to whom accessibility does not only mean having an easier life; for persons with disabilities and older persons in particular, accessibility means the difference between participating actively in society, and not being able to participate at all." He added, “We have brought together the best minds, from Europe and beyond, under one roof to build upon the efforts of ITU and the European Commission, in the field of accessible information and communication technology."
Among the highlights of both events were regional competitions on the development of innovative technological solutions for persons with disabilities.
In the Americas region, Enzo Poeta and Carlos Pereira won the competition.
Enzo Poeta developed a programme that translates video subtitles from Portuguese into Libras, the Brazilian sign language, which will enable people with hearing impairment to access online video content for information and entertainment.
Carlos Pereira developed an interactive application which can transform text and images into speech, enabling students with speech impairment communicate verbally.
In the Europe region, the competition had five categories. The awarded winners in each category were:
Deaf or hard of hearing category – Signly
Signly is an app that displays pre-recorded sign language videos on a user's mobile, enabling better access to written content for the deaf.
Visual impairment category - Waymap
Waymap is a personalized platform that gives users freedom of travel across multiple venues. It sends users maps and live facility data feeds securely, and supports services such as emergency response, guided tours and post visit analysis.
Speech impairment category - IrisGo
IrisGo is a new generation of eye-tracking technology that allows the user to control a device with a high level of precision, using the existing embedded webcam of a device (mobile, tablet, PC or laptop), without the need for any additional hardware.
- Cognitive and intellectual disabilities category - VR Therapies
VR Therapies is an innovative social enterprise created for children with special-needs and adults with disabilities. Using Virtual Reality, users can experience a range of activities, such as swimming with dolphins or exploring space.
Physical disabilities category -
Mirrorable is the first Action Observation Treatment (AOT), home-based, online platform aimed at improving limbs' motor function in Unilateral Cerebral Palsy sufferers.
The Accessible Americas and Accessible Europe events contribute to the implementation of the ITU Regional Initiative on Accessibility, adopted by the 2017 World Telecommunication Development Conference.