About 15% of the global population – roughly one billion people worldwide – live with some form of disability. Over 80% of those with disabilities live in isolated rural areas in developing countries.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones, satellites or the Internet, promote digital inclusion; they can help people to participate fully in society, expanding access to essential public services and offer persons with disabilities the opportunity of living an independent life.
But more needs to be done. Some 62 million children of primary school age have a disability and 186 million children with disabilities have not completed primary school education. Yet, ICT-enabled applications such as online distance learning can help to achieve equitable communications for everyone.
“It’s technically possible, so there’s no reason that we can’t include them [persons with disabilities],” explained Andrea Saks, ICT Accessibility Consultant for Persons with Disabilities and Chairperson, Joint Coordination Activity on Accessibility and Human Factors (ITU-T JCA-AHF).
Moreover, Saks explained, “if you don’t have accessibility for persons with disabilities to ICTs, you’re going to lose a tremendously talented workforce.”
To extend the benefits of ICTs to all, ICTs have to be made accessible to persons living with disabilities, so that these technologies constitute an opportunity and not a barrier. One of these ways is through mainstreaming accessibility in ICTs – especially in standardization.
“When we do standards … we want to put accessibility features in regular standards. So that we can have accessibility in everyday life. Mainstreaming means that we also include them in the process of when we do make standards … we have access to the people who want to be able to tell us what they want and what they need,” Saks explained. “Standards are voluntary … We want to encourage people who implement standards from ITU to implement … accessibility features to make it accessibility for everyone.”
ITU works to increase access to ICTs for persons with disabilities: by raising awareness of their right to access telecommunications/ICTs; mainstreaming accessibility in the development of international telecommunications/ICT standards; and providing education and training on key accessibility issues.
Hear more about the importance of making ICTs accessible for persons with disabilities in the video below.