Over the coming weeks, ITU’s 193 Member States will be meeting in Busan, Republic of Korea for the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference. This event is of great importance for the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, as ITU Member States will approve a Strategic Plan which ITU will implement over the next four years with the aim of achieving further progress towards a fully connected global society.
On the occasion of this important conference in my capacity as Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, I would like to call on ITU’s Members to get behind a common goal: to ensure that every scientific and technological advance has the potential to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has undoubtedly been a major milestone on the road towards achieving that goal. The Convention views disability as a pathology of society, not of the individual – that is, as the result of society’s failure to be inclusive and accommodate individual differences. Bringing about that change is our collective responsibility.
For as long as I have lived with my disability, I have been amazed by the spectacular advances that I have witnessed in science and technology which seem to proliferate with every year that passes. But technology to improve accessibility has struggled to keep pace with developments in other areas and appears to be stagnating.
What, I wonder – in this age of the Internet, smart applications, artificial intelligence and robotics – has become of all those inventions that were supposed to change the lives of disabled people and are now no more than ideas? Why has there been less progress in this area than in others?
For example, microchips are now cheap and set to become completely invisible as they increasingly form an integral part of our homes, our clothes, and our furniture. But what has become of the silicon chip which could be wired into the neurons of an unsighted person’s retina to restore some limited vision and which, as we were promised, would eventually be mass-produced? What happened to exoskeletons – originally cumbersome mechanical structures but which, with nanotube technology, could now be integrated unobtrusively into clothing?
This is why I wish to call on the technology sector to not just manufacture expensive toys for the rich, but to work together to restore the human and caring face of science as an endeavour that promotes the collective good of society, especially its less well-off members.
It is now all but impossible to live without ICTs, and it is precisely information and communication that gives us access to the culture and knowledge that enables us to develop human potential and ensure a life of dignity for disabled people and their families.
Accessibility requires changes to ways of thinking and acting in society. As human beings, we are prone to a duality that roots us in the past but also drives us to transform ourselves and our environment. Accessibility is a culture, a way of life that aims to create a present of greater dignity and a harmonious future for all, without exceptions, without exclusion.
On the occasion of this Plenipotentiary Conference, I call on the technology sector (governments and the private sector) to live up to its social responsibility and fulfil its true function, so that every Internet and phone connection may be a point of human contact and solidarity.
Through this blog post, I call on all ITU Members to make this vision their own and ensure that any agreement adopted by the conference will pursue the goal of greater progress in areas where the need is greatest.
I have every confidence that you will work together to overcome our society’s failings in this area and ensure that we can all be included in the future development of ICTs.
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