World Telecommunication and Information Society Day 2008: Focus on Connecting Persons with Disabilities ITU takes steps to enhance accessibility
Cairo, Egypt - 15 May 2008 - The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which raises awareness on the catalytic role of ICT in meeting long-term development goals, focused this year on connecting persons with disabilities to opportunities offered by information and communication technologies (ICT).
An estimated 650 million persons live with disabilities worldwide. Including their families, there are nearly two billion people - or a third of the world's population - directly affected by disability. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on this World Day, "It is vital that we change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities, ensuring that all fundamental rights and freedoms are honoured, including the right to fully participate in the information society, and bring forth input, ideas and effort from the disability community."
"The phenomenal growth of ICTs over the past 25 years has seen the birth of a dazzling array of new technologies to empower persons with all kinds of disabilities to take active roles in mainstream society," said Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of ITU. "ICTs have the great merit of serving as a powerful equalizer of abilities, empowering persons with disabilities to fulfil their potential, realize their own dreams and ambitions, and take their place as active members of the information society.
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day marks the foundation of ITU in 1865, making it one of the most resilient institutions worldwide.
ITU World Telecommunication and Information Society Award
The ITU World Telecommunication and Information Society Award was presented today by ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré to three eminent laureates at a ceremony in Cairo. Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt
Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's first Lady, President and Founder of the Suzanne Mubarak Women's International Peace Movement, who has been a champion of peace as well as a promoter of women's empowerment and the well being of children and youth, received the Award and made the keynote address. Mrs Mubarak stressed the importance of mainstreaming effective policies and strategies for the empowerment of children and youth with disabilities. She encouraged the engagement of children and youth with disabilities from their early years as active partners in society and, by making the right investment, to reach their untapped potential and develop their personal capacities.
Mrs Mubarak supported implementation of the Cairo Declaration on Supporting Access to ICT Services for Persons with Disabilities, the outcome of the First Regional Conference organized by ITU and WHO. The Declaration supports and encourages the use of ICT applications, assistive technologies and services to persons with disabilities.
The DAISY Consortium - Digital Accessible Information System - is a worldwide organization of libraries and ICT companies in more than 40 countries. Promoting open, non-proprietary standards known as ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2005, the Consortium's mission is to develop and promote international standards and technologies which enable equal access to information and knowledge by all people with print disabilities, and which also benefit the wider community.
DAISY Consortium President Hiroshi Kawamura, accepting the Award on behalf of the organization, said, "This award reinforces the DAISY Consortium's commitment to improving access to information for everyone, everywhere. We strive for an inclusive society where no one is excluded from participation."
Ms Andrea Saks
Hailing from a family of deaf telecommunications pioneers, Andrea Saks has herself been at the forefront of promoting standards for persons with disabilities and in creating a host of accessibility events in ITU. She is the coordinator of the Internet Governance Forum's Dynamic Coalition on Accessibility and Disability.
Accepting the ITU Award, Ms Saks said, "Information deprivation and bad access is the problem, not the disability." Optimistic about the future, she said, "Accessibility has arrived. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a step in this direction."
Demonstration of Assistive Technology: New Opportunities
Microsoft and QualiLife combined their resources to demonstrate assistive technology that can be used in combination with a personal computer or with a mobile phone to make it accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. "Designed to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities or functional limitations, assistive technology software, these innovative accessibility technologies are designed to help any person to achieve greater independence at home, at work, at school, in hospitals and in normal life," said Claudio Giugliemma, CEO of QualiLife.
Demonstrating the use of this technology to an audience of high-level government officials, international organizations, private sector and civil society, Mr Albergati Diamante showed how despite severe disabilities he could navigate through a series of computer applications. Paralysed from the neck down, Mr Diamante has severe mobility impairment. But with the use of only one muscle, he is able to surf the net, write, communicate on the phone, switch between video and radio applications, and even take some control over home appliances.
ITU to Promote ICT Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
Congratulating the Laureates, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré called for the redoubling of efforts to create an inclusive, people-centred, development-oriented Information Society. He recalled the words of Helen Keller: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." Dr Touré said, "The inexorable shift towards new knowledge-based economies is creating a wealth of possibilities for knowledge workers, regardless of their physical capabilities or limitations. Around the world, momentum is building for initiatives that allow persons with disabilities to take their rightful place in society. In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which obliges its signatories to provide public information in formats and technologies appropriate to different kinds of disabilities.
As the world's pre-eminent global ICT standards organization, ITU is embracing the challenges of accessibility through standardization efforts underway within our 21 technical Study Groups. It is worth noting the much of this work has long been based on the principles of inclusion and universal design enshrined in the UN Convention."