Nº 10 2012 > ITU Telecom World 2012 | Special report
Accessibility for all
Leveraging new demographic opportunities for mobile applications and services
Talking about the opportunities that smartphones and new applications offer for ICT users with disabilities, Fouad Hassoun, CEO of Medialog Accessibilities Group, who is himself blind, explained that accessibility to computers has changed the daily lives of blind people, giving them access to education and a host of jobs, previously closed off to people with disabilities. In contrast, recent developments in mobile devices may not be so helpful. “Now access to the smartphone is making things very smart, even too smart. It is not easy for us to keep up with this evolution and these new devices”, said Mr Hassoun.
Some panellists were confident that special needs would eventually be met by the ICT sector, but said that it might take some time. Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director of G3ict’s Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, gave the example of Japan, where telecommunication companies only turned to meeting the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities when they found their penetration figures were flattening out.
Gaurang Kanvinde, CEO at Accessible Systems, said that his start-up ensures that phones, applications and even buildings are accessible to all and barrier-free. “We design our apps adopting universal design principles. That means that your app should have multiple ways of doing the same thing, so that different users can do the same thing but in different ways”, said Mr Kanvinde.
Some speakers warned that leaving change to market forces alone is not enough. “If there is no regulation, we can’t make the comparisons and work out where the gaps are. We can’t assess and work out whether iPhones, for example, are making things better or worse for people with disabilities”, said Mandlesilo Msimang, Managing Director of Pygma Consulting.
“ITU is committed to connecting the world”, said Houlin Zhao, ITU Deputy Secretary-General and Chairman of a special ITU disabilities task force. “ICT are probably the most inclusive infrastructure in the world — they are now within the reach of nearly all the world’s people, even the poorest and those in the most remote regions.” Referring to the more than 650 million people with disabilities of some kind or another, Mr Zhao added that this was one large underserved and under-connected group.