A COVID-19 Wake-up Call: How ITU Supports Digital Accessibility For Persons With Disabilities


By Cyber Era Staff

Over one billion of us already live with some form of disability, and millions more are at risk.

According to World Health Organization and ITU research, more than one billion youth are in danger of hearing loss due to unsafe listening devices and systems. Further, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) estimates the number of senior citizens aged 60 and above who will face age-related disabilities is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030.

Much like COVID-19, disability knows no boundaries of age, socioeconomic status, or geography. Moreover, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities faced by people living with disabilities, highlighting the need to build a more inclusive digital world for all.

An inclusion catalyst

Technology can be a major catalyst to enable the full participation of persons with disabilities in the digital economy. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be a key enabling factor in improving the opportunities for persons with disabilities to lead an independent life when it comes to their health, education, and employment.

ITU is leading the way in this area by supporting its Member States and collective efforts to advance accessible ICT implementation globally.

This commitment is reflected in the ITU Strategic Goal “inclusiveness” and its related target, which calls on Members to ensure that “by 2023, enabling environments ensuring accessible telecommunications/ICTs for persons with disabilities should be established in all countries.”

Another example of ITU’s digital accessibility leadership is the forthcoming ITU Toolkit and Self-Assessment for ICT Accessibility Implementation, designed to help Member States and other stakeholders understand the level of digital accessibility in their country or organization, and measure their progress towards its implementation.

Improving digital accessibility

Digital accessibility, which refers to equal and equitable access to public online information, products, and services for all persons without distinction, is key to ensuring the participation of everyone in the digital economy, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and during the recovery process.

Among ITU responses to the pandemic was the updating of key resources on digital accessibility to include materials on how to make digital communication more accessible during crisis situations such as COVID-19.

These free resources, including the self-paced online trainings ICT Accessibility: The key to inclusive communication and Web Accessibility: The cornerstone of an inclusive digital society, aim to support decision-makers in the design and implementation of policies and strategies that guarantee the full participation and inclusion of every person in their societies.

Given the vital role of inclusive digital communication during the pandemic, ITU also developed guidelines for decision-makers and communicators on making digital information, services and products accessible to all people, including persons with disabilities, in the context of crisis situations such as COVID-19. These guidelines are available in all UN official languages, as well as in 22 other languages. A related online training on ensuring inclusive digital communication during crisis and emergency situations was also released as part of the Accessible Americas regional forum, and is freely available through the ITU Academy in English, French, and Spanish.

Answering the call year-round

The COVID-19 crisis has been a global wake-up call reminding stakeholders around the world of the fundamental need to design, develop, and deliver accessible ICTs to everyone.

While this call might resonate louder today, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must intensify our efforts to ensure that all people, regardless of their gender, age, location or ability, enjoy equal, equitable, and affordable access to digital platforms, products and services throughout the year.

In 2021, ITU will implement a new project that will provide guidance for governments and UN agencies to identify best practices in the design and development of accessible and inclusive online job application and recruitment systems from which all persons, including persons with disabilities, can benefit.

Developed in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), this collaboration is aligned with the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) and aims to achieve sustainable and transformative progress on digital inclusion by ensuring that persons with disabilities can participate in all areas of the work of the United Nations.

To mark the importance of leaving no one behind in the digital era on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, join today’s WSIS TalkX on ICTs for Building Back Better: Toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World, a virtual session moderated by ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson.

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