Information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility for persons with disabilities is a priority for ITU members. At the 2014 World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-14), ITU members recognized the need to ensure that the one billion people living with some form of disability can use ICTs in order to empower them to reach their full potential.
ICT accessibility means removing the various barriers faced by persons with disabilities so that they can easily access and use technology. Establishing an enabling environment is one of the key steps to make ICT accessibility a reality, just as nations have established enabling environments to authorize competition in the provision of ICT services.
New figures released by ITU indicate that ICTs have grown in an unprecedented way over the past 15 years, providing huge opportunities for social and economic development.
There are currently over 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, for a population estimated at 7.2 billion. This means that there will soon be an average of one mobile subscription per inhabitant. The number of Internet users worldwide stands at 3.2 billion, 2 billion of which live in developing countries. In the five years from 2000 to 2015, Internet penetration has increased almost sevenfold, from 6.5 to 43 per cent of the global population. The proportion of households with Internet access has risen from 18 per cent in 2005 to 46 per cent in 2015. In 2015, 69 per cent of the global population will be served by a 3G mobile broadband network, and we are now seeing the rapid extension of 3G mobile broadband into rural areas.
Despite these advances, very few nations today have policies or frameworks in place to ensure that persons with disabilities are part of this technology revolution. Persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in using ICTs. I believe that creating and implementing national ICT accessibility policy frameworks will lead to unprecedented growth in accessible ICTs and the empowerment of persons with disabilities. The impact of these policies will be enjoyed by many others, including immigrant, aging and illiterate populations, and will open doors to inclusive education, employment and health services.
To assist governments around the world address key issues in promoting ICT accessibility, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict) published the Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report. The report represents the culmination of seven years of cooperation between the two organizations in gathering good practices and facilitating exchanges among policy-makers, non-governmental organizations and industry leaders who promote ICT accessibility in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report is designed to be a tool for national policy-makers and regulators to create their own ICT accessibility policy frameworks. It includes six modules focusing on different aspects of ICT accessibility – amendments to the existing ICT legal framework, public ICT access, mobile communications, television/video programming and public procurement of accessible ICTs – so that countries can prioritize implementation. In all modules, the approach is to develop national policies in consultation with persons with disabilities.
Translating accessibility needs into policies, laws and regulations requires a carefully crafted ICT enabling framework. Different types of ICT equipment and services – ranging from public ICT access points, mobile devices and services, television and video programming and equipment, web sites as well as all ICTs purchased via public procurement – require distinct accessibility solutions involving different groups of stakeholders. These solutions can be achieved through common approaches, leveraging technological innovation and the adoption of international standards which ensure economies of scale that offer considerable opportunities for persons with disabilities.
In the WTDC-14 Final Report, ITU Membership requested that ITU assist them in formulating national and regional policy and regulatory frameworks on ICT accessibility. The Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report is a valuable resource for ITU members and all relevant stakeholders as they strive to implement successful national ICT accessibility policies.
I am convinced that we can make ICT accessibility a reality. Let us move from words to action and begin formulating, implementing, and monitoring ICT accessibility policies in close consultation with persons with disabilities.
Mr. Brahima Sanou was elected Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau by the Plenipotentiary Conference, 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was re-elected at the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Republic of Korea in October 2014.