02.04.2007 -

New technologies bringing persons with disabilities into mainstream, UN forum told

A "dazzling array" of technologies is bringing persons with disabilities into the workforce and integrating them further into society, an expert on assistive technologies said at a forum, which took place on 26 March at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

At the first Global Forum of the UN Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), accessibility experts and executives of corporations such as IBM, Yahoo, Internet Speech, Deque Systems, NiiT Ventures and e-ISOTIS showcased new products - from video-descriptions to screen readers - and mapped out a field that is seeing a "significant beginning of venture capital investment".


Government regulations are helping to fuel this development. Canada now requires that 90 per cent of TV programmes be captioned, and in the United Kingdom up to 5 per cent of TV programmes show a sign language translator. Japan, Mexico and Australia are preparing similar legislation to make TV more accessible.


However, industry vendors should incorporate accessibility features from the start of the product development. A number of ICT vendors are well-intended, but tackle the issue of accessibility too late in the product life cycle, at a higher cost. Legislations and regulations should aim at creating unified markets for accessible products, so as to encourage mass production at low cost.


The Web has the ability to be even more accessible than other parts of society. Adaptable policy frameworks should be developed, because the technology continues to advance all the time, and it is important to keep the policy frameworks up to date with the technology.


Solutions that were developed in a particular industry or standards organization should not be automatically made available in a country. It is very important to partner with disability organizations within every country and try to make sure that those solutions are relevant locally.


Hendrietta Ipeleng Bogopane-Zulu, a Member of South Africa's Parliament, recalled the "digital divide that still exists between people with disabilities and those who are non-disabled", and said that beyond access to the Web, the problem for many developing countries is also affordability, support systems and training."


Some 200 representatives of industry, government, academia and civil society attended the Forum, which was organized by the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development and the Boston-based Wireless Internet Institute in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


UNESCO works with its partners to promote the use of ICT for access to information and knowledge for all persons, including those with disabilities.

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