17.10.2013 - UNESCO Beijing

The role of ICTs to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities discussed in Beijing

The role of ICTs to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities was discussed at the 9th China Information Accessibility Forum held in Beijing on 15-16 October 2013. With the theme “Consolidation and Integration — Accessibility Services in the All-media Age”, the forum was co-hosted by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, the China Foundation for Disabled Persons and with the support of UNESCO and other key national partners.

In the opening speech, the Director of the UNESCO Office in Beijing, Mr. Abhimanyu Singh, said that the challenge of universal accessibility to information resonates strongly with the Organization’s commitment to inclusive knowledge societies and free flow of information. And he added that: “In building inclusive knowledge societies, access to information is of vital importance to ensure that all persons are able to participate as creative and productive members of their communities, including and paying particular attention to the needs of persons with disabilities.” China is a country with an estimated population of 85 million persons with disabilities (PWDs).

During the forum, the Chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), Mr. Lu Yong, acknowledged the progress made in the past decade since the first Information accessibility forum was held in China in 2004. But he warned there is still much more to be done, for example for persons with disabilities (PWDs) living in rural areas. The Vice Chairperson of the Internet Society of China, Mr. Gao Xinmin, said that there are barriers for PWDs to access to the Internet. Authorities, including the representative from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China, mentioned the important role of the past editions of the China Information Accessibility Forum in raising awareness on the needs of PWDs and said it has now come to the time of focusing on developing and implementing solutions. Participants also referred to the Amendment to the Regulations on Education of Disabled Persons, recently published by the China’s State Council, stating that PWDs should be entitled to all achievements in the society, as well as to inclusive education. A recent research by the CDPF shows that 28 percent of school-aged children with disabilities are not enrolled at school.

On the second day of the Forum, education was one of the four thematic areas selected for sub-fora, and the Communication and Information sector and the Education sector of the UNESCO Office in Beijing jointly co-organized the sub-forum focusing on education and training, together with the China Braille Press. After UNESCO clarified the concept of inclusive education and introduced key international policy frameworks in support of inclusive education and use of technology in its opening presentation, Professor Deng Meng of the Beijing Normal University said that despite the efforts made by the government and the society, a more comprehensive law on education for PWDs is still lacking, causing much difficulties in ensuring the fundamental right of education for all Chinese children including those with disabilities. He also stressed that Learning in Regular Classrooms (LRC) should be the main strategy to provide educational access to children with disabilities.

One of the highlights of the sub-forum was a panel discussion session facilitated by UNESCO to share international experiences on how technology can contribute to achieving inclusive education. The President of the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict), Mr. Axel Leblois, elaborated on what ICTs can offer in expanding opportunities to all persons with disabilities, based on his recent collaborative work with UNESCO to develop a model policy framework.The panel discussion was also joined by specialized international NGOs working in China, Handicap International represented by Ms. Alessandra Aresu and OVCI Our Family China, represented by Ms. Monica Mongodi and Mr Sun Lining. They discussed accessibility for PWDs from a gender perspective, and shared strategies to create favorable conditions for students with disabilities in accessing education by making assistive technologies available and affordable.

The Forum was attended by about two hundred representatives from relevant Chinese agencies and organizations, by major Chinese media including CCTV, Xinhua, CNR, and China Daily, as well as by international experts. The president of the international DAISY consortium promoting accessibility to published information for PWDs, Mr. Stephen King, mentioned that China is one of the first signatories of the WIPO's Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities which was adopted last June. The Thai Senator and representative in the UN Committee on the Rights of PWDs, Mr. Monthian Buntan, asked the DAISY’s representative at which stage we are with the development of a project to develop low-cost braille display devices. In reply, Mr. King explained that the DAISY has reviewed over 60 technologies, identifying one candidate to be developed and which should soon arrive to the market with various manufactures, hopefully for less than 300 USD.

In the Forum’s lobby, a UNESCO’s boot shared relevant publications including the most recent “The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework” which had been just launched globally last month at the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. UNESCO is one of the UN agencies that promotes and supports the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006. In China, UNESCO Beijing Office has extensively cooperated with the China Foundation for Disabled Persons to promote accessibility to information for PWDs.

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