It was great to be part of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D team working with our colleagues at the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology (INIT) to convene and host the first session on Accessibility Day (8th April) at this year’s tenth anniversary WSIS Annual Forum held in Geneva. The theme was “Digital technologies and accessibility: from rhetoric to reality”, and our session began with three short opening presentations:
Building on these inspiring presentations, participants then turned their attention to discussing what still needs to be done to turn rhetoric into reality with respect to the empowerment of people with disabilities through ICTs. This was captured in the mind map below (link to a detailed and expandable .pdf file of the mind map):
This discussion highlighted the continuing need for work in ten main areas:
- Holistic approaches
- Enabling voices of people with disabilities
- Policies and legislation
- Differentiation between universal inclusion and assistive technologies
- Training, awareness and capacity building
- Building appropriate technologies
- Delivering commitments
Working together, we can all contribute to the empowerment of people with disabilities (details of some of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s activities and resources supporting people with disabilities).
Looking forward to another special set of sessions on accessibillity at next year’s WSIS 2020! Thanks to Gitanjali and her team for all the great work that they did in delivering this year’s conference!
UNESCO has recently published a short report by a group of experts on “ICT for persons with disabilities“.
This presented the following recommendations to UNESCO for consideration:
“Making UNESCO ICT-accessible
The group of experts recommended that UNESCO should ensure overall accessibility of persons with disabilities. To achieve this goal the Organization should improve its online presence and the accessibility of its website. It should also create accessible physical environment, develop appropriate procurement and recruitment policies, and ensure training and retaining of the employees.
Mainstreaming ICT in inclusive education
UNESCO is encouraged to foster effective use of ICT that are accessible, adaptive and affordable for person with disabilities. Specific guidelines and tools are needed to teach persons with disabilities and to ensure that corresponding ICT competencies are embedded in initial teacher training.
Mobilizing resources and international cooperation
The experts stressed the importance of identifying arguments for shifts in policy practices and determining funding opportunities where UNESCO could get involved. It is important to cooperate with organizations of persons with disabilities in order to get the best possible input and to have credible action lines and projects for funding.
Creating an information and knowledge access ecosystem
This recommendation focuses on “touch points”, such as WorldWide Web, broadcasting, publishing, languages, etc., in the system in which people and humans interact with information and services. It also includes e-governance, which could be used to promote e-voting and e-democracy initiatives for citizen participation in an accessible way, as well increase participation in cultural activities.”
Godfred Bonnah Nkansah and I are delighted that our paper on the contribution of ICTs to the delivery of special educational needs in Ghana has just been published in Information Technology for Development, 16(3), 2010, 191-211. The paper not only provides rich empirical evidence of the usage and potential of ICTs in the special educational needs sector in Ghana, but also argues strongly that much more attention should be paid to the positive benefits that ICTs can bring to the lives of people with disabilities across Africa.
This paper explores three main issues in the context of Ghana: constraints on the delivery of effective special educational needs (SEN); the range of information and communication technologies (ICT)-based needs identified by teachers, pupils and organizations involved in the delivery of SEN; and existing practices in the use of ICTs in SEN in the country. It concludes that people with disabilities continue to be highly marginalized, both in terms of policy and practice. Those involved in delivering SEN nevertheless recognize that ICTs can indeed contribute significantly to the learning processes of people with disabilities. Governments across Africa must take positive action to ensure that such experience with ICTs can be used to enable those with SEN to achieve their their full potential, whether in special schools or included within mainstream education.
For media comments on this research see:
- The Commonwealth Secretariat News
Researchers at the Technology and Social Change Group in the University of Washington in Seattle (Joyojeet Pal, Jay Freistadt, Michele Frix, and Phil Neff) have recently released an important report on the impact of technology training on the employment prospects of at-risk youth and people with disabilities in five countries in Latin America.
The report’s findings are “broadly divided by the themes that emerged in the coded transcripts of our conversations on the ground. Under environmental factors, we discuss issues around the prevalent discourse of technology that underlines the ways in which the various stakeholders imagine the role of computers and technology training within the larger social and economic ecosystems. An important environmental factor is the aspirational environment, for the role it plays in peoples’ willingness to participate in such training programs. Finally, structural issues around the labor market form the third set of environmental factors that are extremely important, given that both populations discussed here have histories of geographical and institutional exclusion from formal employment opportunities”.
It is good to see these important issues examined in detail; ICTs can indeed make a significant difference to the lived experiences of people with disabilities and at-risk youth
The OECD has recently (2008 ) published an important monograph entitled Higher education to 2030 (Volume 1): demography (read only version) In summary, this assumes that:
- There will be continued expansion of student participation, with majority female participation, greater variation in student profiles and increased emphasis on issues of access and equality.
- The academic profession is to become more internationally oriented and increasingly mobile. There will also be greater variety in academic employment contracts and a movement away from the traditional concept of a self regulated community of professionals.
- Society will contain a greater proportion of graduates which will have implications for social well-being and economic growth, the gap between the number of graduates from OECD area and from emerging economies (especially China and India) will be significantly reduced and issues around the social exclusion of those without HE qualifications will rise.
It is a long – but interesting – read, and includes syntheses of much useful data. It is good to see a chapter by Serge Enersold on ‘Adapting higher education to the needs of disabled students’.
I have long thought that it is close to obscene that ICTs designed to suport people with disabilities are often much more expensive than the standard computers and mobile ‘phones that most of us take for granted. In large part, this is because of relatively low demand for assistive technologies.
However, ICTs can transform the lives of people with serious disabilities much more than they can help those of us who have fewer disabilities.
There is a huge debate about the value (or otherwise) of refurbished computers being sent to the poorer countries of the world – and there are clearly examples of good and bad practices in this field. Ideally we should strive to bring down prices of assistive technology so that people in poorer countries can afford them – but the reality is that this is unlikely to happen. It is great to see some companies such as Apple, building its universal access software into every computer it sells – but everyone is not so enlightened.
I am therefore exploring the possibility of working with companies producing assistive technology hardware and existing computer refurbishment organisations to collect and distribute such hardware to people in the poorer countries of the world. I would be really interested in people’s thoughts on this – and particularly on offers of help.
In the meanwhile, the ICT4D Collective has a page on accessibility/disability which might be of interest to readers of this blog!
Those interested in the use of the Web for and by people with disabilities will be gladdened by the announcement by W3C on 11th December 2008 that it had launched “a new standard that will help Web designers and developers create sites that better meet the needs of users with disabilities and older users. Drawing on extensive experience and community feedback, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 improves upon W3C’s groundbreaking initial standard for accessible Web content, applies to more advanced technologies, and is more precisely testable”
Further information is available at: