It is with great pleasure that we report that Dr. Akber Gardezi (Assistant Professor at COMSATS University, Pakistan, and the Inter Islamic Network on Information Technology) and an Affiliated Member of our UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has received this year’s Saima Ammar award for his work in using digital technologies to support people with disabilities in Pakistan. The award is made annually by the Young Women Writers Forum (based in Islamabad) in association with Sightsavers, and this year it was made during a ceremony at Rawalpindi Women University.
The award was created in 2011 in memory of Saima Ammar, who had been a very active member of the Young Women Writers Forum, and had recently passed away battling Multiple Sclerosis. The Forum did not have any funding available and so they contacted Sightsavers with whom they had an existing MoU to help and support Blind Women Writers in Pakistan. The first “award” (but not in a physical sense) was a small gathering of like minded people who supported the cause of empowering women and overall inclusion more generally. As the years passed by this gathering which always took place around the 15th of October began a regular feature to honour visually impaired people who had done substantial work within the community. For the last 3-4 years they have also sought nominations from the wider community to include sighted people working for the service of visually impaired people.
Akber writes “I am deeply humbled and thankful to my vision impaired friends who recommended my name for this award. This is very special for me as it links me to the memory of the late Saima Ammar. She was a symbol of activism and defiance; she is someone who fought the cause for access to education for people with disabilities in Pakistan. She is someone who did not let blindness be a burden on her life, but rather used it as a motivation. She did not lead a very comfortable and luxurious life herself but played an immense role promoting educational culture among the visual impaired community of Pakistan. She founded Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB) and initiated the Audio World Project in 1995 with the aim of providing education, information and entertainment to visually impaired persons through audio books. Let this be a reminder for us all to keep fighting the good fight and remember Saima in our thoughts and prayers”.
Members 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):
This discussion highlighted the continuing need for work in ten main areas:
- Holistic approaches
- Enabling voices of people with disabilities
- Policies and legislation
- Differentiation between universal inclusion and assistive technologies
- Training, awareness and capacity building
- Building appropriate technologies
- 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).
Tim 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!
Members 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
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.
This 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
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.