Joint WIPO-ITU Accessibility Workshop, WIPO Headquarters, Geneva, February 2 to 5, 2010

Welcome Address - Malcolm Johnson, Director,
Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau, ITU

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking to you today, on the occasion of this very exciting joint WIPO and ITU Workshop on Accessibility. ITU us very pleased to collaborate with our neighbour WIPO, especially on this important subject.

This is an excellent opportunity for the UN staff responsible for our information and communications to profit from the knowledge of some of the world’s leading experts in this field.

The phenomenal growth of ICTs has seen the birth of a dazzling array of new technologies that can empower persons with all kinds of disabilities to take active roles in mainstream society. For the moment, however, much of this tremendous potential remains unrealized, or inaccessible to the people who need it.

At ITU, we often speak of the Digital Divide which is generally understood to be the yawning gap that separates the wealthy few with access to modern ICTs from those in the developing world who are still waiting to get connected.

However, ending the Digital Divide means the creation of digital inclusion for everyone. And the divide that separates able-bodied people who can readily harness the wonders of today’s technologies from those for whom ICTs remain out of reach, because their special needs have not been accorded due consideration.

Ensuring easy and effective communication for those with disabilities is by no means a ‘fringe issue’. However we find lack of industry participation in accessibility is a problem. This is surprising when one considers that 10% of the worlds population is disabled, many living in developing countries, and also the growing elderly population especially in the developed countries. This represents a huge and growing market.

ICTs have the great merit of serving as a powerful equalizer of abilities, empowering persons with disabilities to fulfill their potential, realize their own dreams and ambitions, and take their place as active members of the Information 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.

Universal Design principles which make new technologies accessible for persons with disabilities are now becoming more of an imperative with the wide adoption of the UN Convention.

Industry and Governments need to understand that persons with disabilities not only need to be included but have a right to be included in the new technological achievements and advances of our time. This is especially important for developing countries that look to the developed world for guidance, and in particular the ITU as the lead UN Agency for ICTs.

ITU has achieved much in terms of accessibility across its three sectors – radiocommunication, standardization and development. It would be impossible to list all the standards, workshops and tutorials and accessibility groups that ITU has initiated and continues to sponsor.

But for example, as the world’s pre-eminent global ICT standards organization, ITU is embracing the challenges of accessibility through standardization efforts and has long championed the principles of inclusion and Universal Design. The ITU began its work on accessibility for persons with disability in 1991. It started with one standard called V.18 – a modem that could translate the different protocols of the deaf telephone networks that already existed in many different countries.

We are very pleased that in 2008 the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day recognised Andrea Saks as a laureate for her work on accessibility and I am pleased she is with us this morning. She coordinates much of our activity in this area. 

I would like to highlight that as an organization ITU practices what it preaches and is working hard to make itself more accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, we provide assistance to disabled delegates to our meetings such as captioning and sign language, wheel chair access etc.

Finding solutions to these challenges is not always a simple matter. On the one hand, equipment and software is now available that provides amazing breakthroughs for people with disabilities. On the other hand, there are many barriers to finding the most appropriate equipment, particularly at affordable prices.

This is why ITU will continue to work hard – around the world – as an advocate to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities and help build an inclusive information society for all.

And there is no better place to demonstrate our accessibility than the online resources that act as our window to the world. This is why this workshop is so important.

We look forward to collaborating with WIPO on this important issue, now and in the future.

In the words of the great Helen Keller: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”& amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; lt; /p>

Thank you and I wish you a very successful and productive workshop.