ICT Access for Everyone

Writer: IMTIAZ MUQBIL
Published: 31/08/2009 at 12:00 AM

The revolution in information technology has transformed the travel and tourism industry, and is now well placed to push forward into a new domain – making travel products and services more user-friendly for the world’s estimated 650 million people with disabilities.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) last week released a toolkit designed to help do just that. The toolkit will provide information and communication technology (ICT) developers in the travel and tourism industry with a great resource to join this global effort.

In addition to opening up a new travel customer base, it will also enable the industry to increase the number of people with disabilities it employs.

The Toolkit was released at the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Mainstreaming ICT Accessibility for People with Disabilities, organised by the ITU along with local, global and private-sector partners. Hosted and supported by ICT ministry, the forum drew 140 participants including people with different type of disabilities from more than 20 countries.

Travel by people with disabilities is expected to be one of the fastest-growing industry segments in the years to come. For those wishing to get a head-start, the forum provided a wealth of information. All the presentations have been posted along with the toolkit at
E-AccessibilityToolkit.org.

As the toolkit is new, many key elements are still blank. However, the best starting point is the case study link with its numerous examples of individuals and companies that have done a lot of work and are willing to share their experiences and technologies.

“In the knowledge-driven information age and society, it is a high time to design and implement ICT inclusive policy to provide digital opportunities to people with disabilities,” said Dr Eun-Ju Kim, head of the ITU Regional Office in Bangkok.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 10% of the world’s population or 650 million peoples have some type of disability. Many encounter barriers using ICT products and services.

“The number is increasing every year due to various factors such as war, destruction, unhealthy living conditions, or the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention and treatment, in addition to the ageing societies especially in the developed economies like Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea and so on,” said Dr Kim.

Many existing websites and mobile phones were not designed with principles of accessibility in the beginning, he said. “The most obvious example is web accessibility. It … costs dramatically less to implement web accessibility at the design stage than to retrofit it later.”

He stressed that ICT accessibility and affordability for the disabled can yield major socio-economic benefits. ICT allows people born with disabilities to gain employment, which in return offers empowerment in the information society. It also helps those who become disabled during their lives to continue to work while contributing to society.

ICT is also useful for older people, who lose dexterity or use of senses, Dr Kim added. “Thus, ICT will continue to support the socio-economic needs of
a growing number of persons [with] different forms of disabilities in the years to come, which can be a potential future market for the industry to prepare.”

Prof Prasit Prapinmongkolkarn, a commissioner of the National Telecommunications Commission, told the meeting that the NTC in collaboration with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (Nectec) had recently concluded a study on measures for providing telecommunication services for people with disabilities and the elderly in Thailand.

The study shows that although different disabilities have different needs, some common requirements are found in such areas as: design and standards, availability, accessibility, affordability, quality, emergency services, accessibility, and special services such as relay service, messaging, and closed captioning.

The NTC and Nectec are now developing a plan for telecom relay services that will benefit 200,000 people with hearing and speech impairments. The plan is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

Imtiaz Muqbil is executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, an e-mailed feature and analysis service focusing on the Asia-Pacific travel industry.

Reproduced from http://www.bangkokpost.com/business/telecom/23002/ict-access-for-everyone