Telecom Union Urges Access for Disabled

By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation
Published on August 25, 2009

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is urging lawmakers and regulators in Asia-Pacific countries to make a greater effort to provide access to information and communication technology for disabled people.

The message will be delivered at an Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Mainstreaming ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities which starts today at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok and runs until Thursday.

The head of the ITU’s Asia-Pacific regional office, Eun-Ju Kim, said the forum would also introduce the “e-Accessible Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities”, developed by ITU and G3ict.

The policy toolkit aims to support various stakeholders in developing policies and strategies for ICT accessibility for disabled people, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The toolkit provides a framework for developing policies and strategies for mainstreaming digital accessibility at regional, national and international levels and offers specific guidance to developing countries.

“We aim to raise awareness and generate momentum for the implementation of the CRPD, especially in countries across this region. Participants at the forum will exchange experiences and case studies, as well as learning about innovative ICT-accessibility measures for disabled people, especially through assistive technologies and applications,” Kim said.

She said that initiatives in Thailand for ICT accessibility for disabled people, led by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who was also one of ITU’s Patrons, had been carried out. However, the government still needed to take action.

“ICT accessibility policies, especially for disabled people, will not emerge overnight. Consistent and persistent steps must be taken to properly design policies and to implement them for an effective ICT-accessible environment in any given country,” Kim said.

ICT-accessibility issues must be considered in relevant laws, regulations, policies and programmes at all stages from design to implementation. She gave as examples Web technologies including information services, websites and online applications; public access terminals such as ATMs, information kiosks, vending machines, information displays, point-of-sale payment systems and door-entry systems; and application software, telecommunication devices and services.

The most recent survey in Thailand, undertaken by the National Statistical Office in 2007, showed that around 1.9 million people, or about 2.9 per cent of the population, had disabilities.

Despite efforts to bridge the digital divide, the gap for disabled people is getting wider and deeper as they fail to catch up with new technologies and services, while assistive technologies, devices and applications specifically designed for these people are barely affordable, she said.

Kim emphasised the role of not only policy-makers and regulators, but also that of industries, in their ability to contribute appropriate designs and affordable ICT products and services for disabled people – taking into account potential markets in an ageing society.

“ICT products and services built with the needs of disabled people in mind will be easier for everyone to use. This helps people who are not technologically skilled to use these products and services. Otherwise, they will be intimidated by them and won’t use them,” she said.

The ITU will continue to promote the toolkit and deliver appropriate training based on the toolkit to various stakeholders, including policy-makers, regulators and others interested in mainstreaming, developing and implementing ICT accessibility issues for disabled people.

“In Thailand, the ITU is working with the ICT Ministry, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and Nectec in areas such as accessibility standards, telecommunications relay services, policy and regulations and human-capacity building,” Kim said.

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