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December 2, 2014

Renewing ITU’s mandate to promote ICT accessibility

By Houlin Zhao

Today, on 3rd December, we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilitiesunder the theme Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology. For ITU, technology, especially Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), plays a key role in the inclusion of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

On this special occasion, and in my capacity as chair of the ITU Accessibility Task Force, I want to share with all of you the important agreements reached by the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference, specifically Resolution 175 (Busan, 2014) “Telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs”. This important resolution mandates ITU to promote ICT accessibility and access to ICTs for persons with disabilities and calls for ITU to become a more accessible organization for persons with disabilities.

Through the revision of Resolution 175, ITU Membership have responded to the recent call made in ITU’s blog by Mr Lenin Moreno, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, who called for the technology community to ensure technological developments improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities. The revision of Resolution 175 further emphasizes the role of ICTs in increasing the access of persons with disabilities to public services and to promote independent living. It also instructs ITU to further collaborate with persons with disabilities, in particular, to improve indicators of access to ICTs.

This important outcome is complemented by another key agreement reached at PP14 with regards to ICT accessibility: the adoption of the Connect 2020 Agenda. The Connect 2020 agenda provides a global framework for the development of ICTs, including the introduction of time-bounded goals to be reached by ITU Membership by 2020. One of the targets included in this agenda calls for the establishment of enabling policies ensuring accessible ICT for persons with disabilities in all ITU Member States by 2020.

With this ambitious target ITU Membership takes the lead in building an inclusive society for all. These outcomes add to agreements reached by ITU membership at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) 2012, which updated the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), which state in Article 12, that Member States should promote access for persons with disabilities to international telecommunication services.

An important resource to support the achievement of the Connect 2020 target on accessibility is the new Model ICT Accessibility Policy Report, published last month by ITU’s Telecommunications Development Sector and G3ict at the Accessible Americas event. The report outlines the concrete steps that government and the private sector can take to ensure the promise of technology is realized for persons with disabilities.

Another recent step has been ITU-T H-Series Supplement 17 (technically aligned with the new edition of ISO/IEC Guide 71) on addressing accessibility in standards. It helps standards developers in embracing the principle of universal design for a wide range of specifications early on in the specification phase across a diverse range of technology areas.

It is imperative to mention that ITU recognizes the importance of strengthening internal and external collaboration in order to encourage more open dialogue, and to obtain better information and knowledge about which data to collect and analyse at the national level using international standards and methods. The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities reminds us of the importance of equality of access to technology/ICTs for all, to create societies that value diversity and inclusion for all.

For the full version of Resolution 175 (Busan, 2014) please see: ITU accessibility mandate.

Houlin ZhaoHoulin Zhao was elected on 23 October 2014 as the next Secretary General of the ITU during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea. He will take up his new position on 1 January 2015. Mr. Zhao was elected ITU Deputy Secretary-General at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Antalya, Turkey, in November 2006 and re-elected for a second four-year term in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2010. From 1999 to 2006, he served as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) with his first election at PP-98 in Minneapolis, USA and again at PP-02 in Marrakesh, Morocco. From 1986-1998, he worked at ITU headquarters, as an Engineer/Councellor. Mr Zhao graduated from Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and holds an MSc in Telematics from the University of Essex in the UK.
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Renewing ITU’s mandate to promote ICT accessibility

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