Digital technologies and accessibility: from rhetoric to reality – at WSIS 2019

Accessibillity 1Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D and our colleagues at the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology (INIT) were delighted to have convened and hosted the first session on Accessibility Day (8th April) at this year’s tenth anniversary WSIS Annual Forum held in Geneva.  The theme was “Digital technologies and accessibility: from rhetoric to reality”, and our session began with three short opening presentations:

Building on these inspiring presentations, participants then turned their attention to discussing what still needs to be done to turn rhetoric into reality with respect to the empowerment of people with disabilities through ICTs.  This was captured in the mind map below (link to a detailed and expandable .pdf file of the mind map):

What must we do to turn rhetoric into reality so that people with disabilities can be empowered through digital technologies

This discussion highlighted the continuing need for work in ten main areas:

  • Holistic approaches
  • Enabling voices of people with disabilities
  • Policies and legislation
  • Partnerships
  • Leadership
  • Differentiation between universal inclusion and assistive technologies
  • Training, awareness and capacity building
  • Building appropriate technologies
  • Finances
  • Delivering commitments

Working together, we can all contribute to the empowerment of people with disabilities (details of some of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s activities and resources supporting people with disabilities).

Chairholder on Teledifusão de Macau talk show discussing ICT4D

KelseyTim Unwin, our Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D,  was recently in Macau and Shenzhen, China, in his role as a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Computing and Society Institute.  During this visit, colleagues at the Institute had arranged for him to participate in Teledifusão de Macau (TDM)’s prime time Talk Show with Kelsey Wilhelm.  This was a great opportunity to share some of his current thinking about the interface between digital technologies and humans!

The show is now available on YouTube, and begins with an overview of the current state of ICT for development, before going on to discuss

  • ways through which people with disabilities can be empowered through the use of technology,
  • the importance of new technologies being inclusive, because otherwise they lead to new inequalities,
  • working “with” the poorest and most marginalised rather than for them,
  • the role of new technologies such as AI and blockchain in serving the interests of the rich rather than the poor,
  • cyborgs and the creation of machine-humans and human-machines, and finally
  • some of the ethical issues that need to be discussed if we are to balance the benefits of new technologies whilst limiting their harm.

We need much wider public debate on these issues!

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, UNESCAP and INIT expert meeting on inclusion and technology, August 2018 Bangkok

c3b9b34c-aa2d-44ad-87a7-6991e82c0f56Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D were delighted to work with colleagues from UN ESCAP and INIT (The Inter-Islamic Network on IT) to moderate an expert meeting  on inclusion and technology on 30th August 2018 on the margins of the ESCAP Regional Consultation on Inclusive Technology and Innovation Policies (28-29 August) which was held in the run-up to the ESCAP Committee on Information and Communications Technology and Science, Technology and Innovation, Second Session (29-31 August) in Bangkok.  This provided a valuable forum for participants to discuss the main impediments preventing persons with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific from being empowered through technologies, and to identify priority policy actions to overcome these.  It included a small number of short presentations, but most of the time was spend by participants in co-creating mind-maps around three key questions which are summarised below:

Main outputs co-created by participants

Presentations

Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities

It was great to be invited to give a lecture in the Societat Catalana de Geografia in Barcelona on the subject of “Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities?” on Tuesday 4th October in the Ciclo de Conferencias Programa Jean Monnet convened by my great friend Prof. Jordi Marti Henneberg on the theme of Los Desafîos de lintegración Europea.  This was such an honour, especially since I had the privilege of following the former President of the European Union Josep Borrell’s excellent lecture earlier in the day on El Brexit y sus consequencias en la goberabilidad de la Unión Europea.

lectureThis was an opportunity for me to explore the relevance to the European context of some of my ideas about ICTs and inequality gleaned from research and practice in Africa and Asia.  In essence, my argument was that we need to balance the economic growth agenda with much greater focus on using ICTs to reduce inequalities if we are truly to use ICTs to support greater European integration.  To do this, I concluded by suggesting  that we need to concentrate on seven key actions:

  • working with the poor rather than for the poor
  • pro-poor technological innovation – not the “next billion” but the “first” billion
  • governments have a  key role to play through the use of regulation as facilitation in the interests of the poor and marginalised
  • crafting of appropriate multi-sector partnerships
  • managing security and resilience against the dark side
  • enhancing learning and understanding, both within governments and by individuals
  • working with the most disadvantaged, people with disabilities, street children, and women in patriarchal societies

ICTs empowering people with disabilities

People with disabilities are amongst the most marginalised people in the world, especially in some of the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.  Yet, those with greater disabilities can be empowered far more through the appropriate use of ICTs than can those who claim to have no disabilities.  The global community needs to do very much more to develop appropriate policies and practices to ensure that people with disabilities are not further marginalised because they are unable to access and use ICTs effectively.  To this end, I am developing a small website that provides information and useful links for all those working on ICTs and disabilities – do visit https://disabilityict4d.wordpress.com/ – and more importantly please share information about this hugely important agenda.

Tim