It was great to be invited to give a lecture in the Societat Catalana de Geografia in Barcelona on the subject of “Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities?” on Tuesday 4th October in the Ciclo de Conferencias Programa Jean Monnet convened by my great friend Prof. Jordi Marti Henneberg on the theme of Los Desafîos de lintegración Europea. This was such an honour, especially since I had the privilege of following the former President of the European Union Josep Borrell’s excellent lecture earlier in the day on El Brexit y sus consequencias en la goberabilidad de la Unión Europea.
This was an opportunity for me to explore the relevance to the European context of some of my ideas about ICTs and inequality gleaned from research and practice in Africa and Asia. In essence, my argument was that we need to balance the economic growth agenda with much greater focus on using ICTs to reduce inequalities if we are truly to use ICTs to support greater European integration. To do this, I concluded by suggesting that we need to concentrate on seven key actions:
- working with the poor rather than for the poor
- pro-poor technological innovation – not the “next billion” but the “first” billion
- governments have a key role to play through the use of regulation as facilitation in the interests of the poor and marginalised
- crafting of appropriate multi-sector partnerships
- managing security and resilience against the dark side
- enhancing learning and understanding, both within governments and by individuals
- working with the most disadvantaged, people with disabilities, street children, and women in patriarchal societies
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
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!