Report calls for action on ICTs for disabled people

Report calls for action on ICTs for disabled people_Panos
Copyright: Chris Stowers / Panos

Speed read

  • ICTs can help disabled people integrate into society, but can be hard to access
  • The new report has identified barriers and suggested solutions
  • But critics have accused it of making improvements "only on paper"

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A report by the UN agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) and its partners has mapped out the necessary steps to making ICTs suitable for, and available to, people with disabilities.
ICTs already help people with disabilities participate more fully in society, both economically and socially. Yet challenges remain, says the report, released during a side event at the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development at the UN Headquarters in New York last week (23 September).
The report identifies the barriers that people with disabilities experience in accessing and using ICTs such as web services, mobile devices, television, electronic kiosks such as ATMs, and computers.
The barriers include the cost of making ICTs accessible — the price of the technology as well as training and support for using it, and the cost assessing the person's requirements — and poor implementation of policies to foster the creation of accessible ICTs.
The report outlines action to be taken by groups such as governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and the UN.

“Policymakers both in developing and developed countries can use this report to get an up-to-date picture of the issues at the intersection of ICTs, disability and development.”

Amal Kharbichi, International Telecommunication Union 

It suggests that governments update disability legislation to include ICTs and include accessibility requirements in their procurement policies, as well as promote the availability and affordability of accessible ICTs and assistive technologies.
The UN and other international organisations should work to meet disability-inclusive development goals, as well as monitor efforts at the global, regional and national levels, the report says. 
The private sector's role should be to increase efforts to develop accessible ICTs, as well as addressing the shortage of professionals with ICT accessibility skills, says the report. And civil society organisations should raise policymakers' awareness of barriers to accessibility.
"Policymakers both in developing and developed countries can use this report to get an up-to-date picture of the issues at the intersection of ICTs, disability and development," says Amal Kharbichi, ICT accessibility programme officer at the Switzerland-based International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the UN.
Kharbichi tells SciDev.Net that support for assistive technology is "extremely weak in most developing nations" and that the assistive ICT solutions are still too costly.
Hemlata, deputy director of the National Centre for Disability Studies at India's Indira Gandhi National Open University, describes the report as comprehensive and relevant.
She tells SciDev.Net that other challenges facing ICT accessibility include "affordability and availability at the small town and village level" and "lack of efforts in taking the technology from the lab to land".
Solutions to help disabled people in developing countries access ICTs should be cost effective and robust, and account for unreliable electricity supplies in rural areas, she says.
But Ahmed Fathy Alsaka, a physically disabled student at Egypt's Industrial Technical Institute, tells SciDev.Net that the UN meeting is merely a "talking shop" that will enhance the use of ICTs for disabled people "only on paper".
"As ICTs are providing lifeline services for us, we are looking for fully funded initiatives in poor communities to promote the development of innovative and comprehensive ICT solutions, as well as facilitating access to them," he says.
Link to full report