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Digital Accessibility World Report

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06/16/2008

ICT Accessibility: Are the Stars Lining Up?


This Spring, several important steps mark a remarkable increase of momentum for the promotion of Digital Accessibility and Assistive Technologies. 

First and foremost, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force in May with more than 20 ratifications completed and 129 signatory states to date.  A major success which will help promote a Global Digital Accessibility agenda for all stakeholders involved.  Article 9 of the Convention, by including Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in its definition of Accessibility at par with buildings and transportation, creates a vast new field of opportunity for industry, standards development organizations and governments: each article of the Convention which mentions Accessibility does in fact open up new opportunities for innovation and for expanding services for persons with disabilities.  It also include dispositions suggesting that signatory states actually partner or help the ICT industry in developing new solutions for persons with disabilities. Naturally, with a large number of countries now engaged in the process of implementing the Convention, many practical questions arise, in particular, which standards should governments promote in matters of ICT accessibility and assistive technologies. 

The Convention: A Blueprint for ICT Accessibility Standards 

To answer this question, on April 21st, the Joint Global Forum organized by ITU and G3ict examined for the first time the opportunities opened by the Convention for Standards Development Organizations and Industry.  It was a remarkable meeting both from a participation and content standpoint.  Discussions held brought clarity and consensus in three major areas: the importance of global standards in several core areas of Digital Accessibility including Human Interfaces, Contents and Services and Wireless Technologies; the possibility to further enhance ISO standards to ensure that product development  methodology do include at an early stage accessibility criteria; and the opportunity for governments to cooperate at an international level in support of international standards via public procurement rules.   

 
On public procurement matters, while the TEITAC meetings updating the Section 508 Standards and Telecommunications Act Guidelines came to a conclusion in April in the United States,  European Standards Development Organizations CEN, CENELEC and ETSI were preparing a public meeting to be held in Brussels this week to review the draft reports produced during Phase 1 of Mandate M 376, as part of the EU effort to develop public procurement policies on ICT accessibility.    

As mentioned at the joint ITU-G3ict Global Forum, thanks to an open process on both sides, the Transatlantic cooperation has evolved positively with other interested countries joining as observers and informal participants. Although harmonization is a complex endeavor, the process in itself is a remarkable step forward, and one that I believe is unstoppable. 

Immediately following the Global Forum, ITU Study Group 16 on Multimedia Terminals, Systems and Applications met April 22-May 2, covering a very large array of accessible and assistive communication and multi-media technologies including IPTV. Soon to come, on June 16-19 in Tokyo, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Special Working Group on Accessibility will meet to review the extensive work done to define User Needs, establish an inventory of accessibility standards with a gap analysis, and propose a guidance on users needs mapping.  The completion of this work will be for all intent and purposes a significant milestone on the path to promoting universal accessibility standards. 

The Work Ahead: Bridging the Gap with Policy Makers 

For country legislators and regulators, meanwhile, implementing the dispositions of the Convention on ICT accessibility is a complex endeavor.  To facilitate the development of policies and strategies addressing ICT accessibility and service needs of people with disabilities, G3ict and ITU announced their joint development of a “Toolkit for Policy Makers”.           

Designed as a global on-line platform, the toolkit will be intended to provide practical resources and references for policy makers.  A much needed bridge between the many areas of ICT applications covered by the dispositions of the Convention on accessibility and the fast evolving world of accessible and assistive information technology.   

It is for G3ict and all its participants an important project: translating the dispositions of the Convention into a practical roadmap supported by documented good practices.  In this endeavour we are looking forward to promoting further international cooperation, existing standards, and to constitute a common body of knowledge and experience really useful to all stakeholders involved in ICT accessibility and assistive technologies. We are all grateful for the opportunity and welcome all volunteering organizations and individual experts in this important endeavour.    

Click here to leave a message or inquire about the Toolkit.

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