In addition to providing news, entertainment and rapid communication, ICTs (information and communication technologies) allow people access to vital services such as e-government, e-books, digital libraries and e-banking.
However, there is a lack of awareness among developers and manufacturers of the need for ensuring that ICTs are accessible for people with disabilities– either as part of initial universal design or through specially-adapted ICTs.
There is also sometimes a lack of awareness among people with disabilities and their support structures about the existence of technologies that could be used or adapted to help them and open up myriad opportunities and possibilities.
Furthermore, there is a lack of standardization among producers; and a lack of resources across the board – particularly financing for people with disabilities (the vast majority of whom live in developing countries) to access affordable supportive technologies.
Even where accessibility criteria and assistive technologies exist to enable people with disabilities to access ICTs, the real rate of access is actually very limited.
Access to ICTs has been vital for me to achieve full participation in all aspects of life and society.
Without access to ICTs, assistive technologies or specially-developed ICTs, people with disabilities are disenfranchised –and are denied equal access to education, culture, and everyday services. This ends up restricting their job opportunities and their possibility for independent living. As a blind person myself, using ICTs is what enabled me to finish my school and university education and complete my academic training, Master’s Degree and internships.
Access to ICTs has been vital for me to achieve full participation in all aspects of life and society, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I frequently use the internet and digital libraries, and can access information about basic things for independent daily living, such as public health information. ICTs have enabled me to access books for pleasure and for education, and I benefit from audio-description to enjoy culture through cinema, museums and documentaries.
ICTs help me use my bank account through ATMs, find my way around cities on my own guided by maps and GPS, accessing crucial information such as public transport routes and timetables.. Through ICTs I benefit from e-government services and regularly make electronic payments. ICTs also make it possible for me to communicate on an equal basis with others.
If you cannot access education, you cannot get access to the labor market and you cannot achieve independent living.
Although my academic background provided me with the knowledge and skills necessary for exciting career possibilities that would not have been possible without proper access to ICTs either through universal design or through assistive technology. Therefore, ICTs are the key that opens the door to full participation for people with disabilities.
In fact, whenever there is lack of awareness, inaccessible platforms, or lack of resources for assistive technology supported by ICTs, I find I cannot carry out my work, and I experience exclusion on multiple grounds. Examples of those obstacles are websites incompatible with screen readers (such as websites programmed on flash), contact or e-business card details based on images, books and documents in image format (images pdf files), inaccessible ATMS (without voice support), inaccessible e-banking, e-government services incompatible with screen readers, and GPS services and maps incompatible with voice. Though these are easy to solve, lack of awareness is one of the main obstacles that I have faced. If you cannot access education, you cannot get access to the labor market and you cannot achieve independent living.
ICTs are definitely the key tool for performing my professional work, and can be the key for the full digital inclusion of thousands of persons with disabilities around the world. What can you do to promote accessible ICTs and contribute to the inclusion of people with disabilities? Let’s get rid of inaccessibility, and work towards a culture of accessibility & inclusion!
Note from ITU: This blog story is part of the ICT consultation in support of the High Level Meeting on Disability and Development which will take place on 23 september 2013 in New York. The objective of this consultation is to raise awareness on the benefits of ICTs for disability-inclusive development efforts. Get involved in this consultation by answering the online survey and sharing the experiences, best practices and recommendations from your organization on how to promote the social inclusion of persons with disabilities through the use of ICTs.
Lucía Ramón Torres is a Mexican lawyer. She works as an advisor for the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the UN and other International Organizations in Geneva; you can follow her in twitter @lbramon