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Opening Ceremony - Belt and Road High-level Event on Disability Cooperation

Speech by Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Opening Ceremony - Belt and Road High-level Event on Disability Cooperation

14 September 2017, Beijing, China


Good morning. Zao Shang hao.

It is an honour and pleasure for me to be here in Beijing today to speak at this Opening Ceremony of the Belt and Road High-level Event on Disability Cooperation, and to have the opportunity to see the different innovations in cutting-edge technologies that will make such a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) promise to give the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people a chance to communicate and interact better with the world, and to strive towards the goal of equal access. ICTs can open a world of opportunities for persons with disabilities, and that is why accessibility is a priority issue in ITU, something I have strongly promoted ever since joining ITU more than 10 years ago.

I would like to thank the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the World Health Organization, and Rehabilitation International for hosting this event, and inviting ITU.

I am grateful to State Councillor Wang Yong for bringing us together today to explore how we can enhance our cooperation on improving communication access for persons with disabilities and reducing some of the barriers of disability. This will benefit everyone and empower persons with disabilities as we continue our drive toward inclusive growth in the countries and regions along the Belt and Road, and beyond. ITU Secretary-General, Mr. Houlin Zhao was proud to sign a Letter of Intent on behalf of ITU with the Government of China last May, here in Beijing, to collaborate on the Belt and Road initiative. Today’s event is a testament to the power of ICT and its impact on inclusiveness – one of the four strategic goals of the ITU.

I want to take this opportunity to recognize the outstanding work of Mrs. Zhang Haidi, the Chairperson of CDPF and President of Rehabilitation International. Madam Chairperson, you recently outlined some concrete proposals to assist persons with disabilities, with measures ranging from the construction of a university for rehabilitation here in China, to the development of e-commerce platforms. ITU stands ready to assist you in any way we can.

You have talked about ‘the spirit of love’ that we need to have towards persons with disabilities. Some of the most important breakthroughs in communications technology were born out of love.

The young girl Mabel Gardiner Hubbard was only five years old when scarlet fever rendered her deaf for life. You may not have heard of her, but everyone knows of her husband: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. Few people realize that the telephone was developed as a result of his experiments with ways to communicate with his beloved wife.  

In the 1990s, ITU pioneered international work on standardization of telecommunications for the deaf with the standard V.18, a major landmark allowing different (and previously incompatible) text phones in different countries to communicate. It was the first step towards universal design for accessibility of telecommunication products.

ITU has never stopped promoting accessibility ever since. We have our own Accessibility Policy and all new ITU standards have to meet an accessibility check list. We encourage the participation of persons with disabilities in our work, for example by providing captioning and remote participation in most of our meetings.

Making accessibility to ICTs a reality, requires a combination of technical standards and legal and regulatory frameworks. And so, we’ve developed a Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report, which offers concrete solutions to policymakers and regulators around the world to enact their own strategies.

As the UN specialized agency for ICTs, we bring together industry, policymakers and academia to consult with persons with disabilities to ensure that the technology works for everyone – everywhere.

Next month, all these stakeholders will gather in Argentina for the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference. A pre-event on ICT accessibility will allow them to share their views on how to build a more inclusive society.

So, as you can see, in ITU we believe ICTs are essential, not only to implement key treaties like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but also to the success of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - whose central promise is to leave no one behind.

Ladies and gentlemen,
When President Xi Jinping came to Geneva last January, he articulated his vision on how to work together to build a community of a shared future for mankind. The Belt and Road initiative is part of it. In his speech to the United Nations Office in Geneva, he said that “The ocean is vast because it admits all rivers.” And this is true of the potential of ICTs, it is also vast, but to succeed it must admit all people – especially persons with disabilities.

At ITU, we believe that the principles of universal design, affordability and equal opportunities to accessible ICTs and assistive technologies are key for building inclusive societies. We look forward to working with all of you towards that goal.

Thank you.​