By Roxana Widmer-Iliescu, Senior Coordinator for Digital Inclusion, ITU
Learning in the classroom lays the foundation, starting early on, for the rest of our lives. But when students lack equal access to today’s digital technologies, their personal and professional development can be affected for years to come. This is true, especially for children with disabilities.
Of the 240 million children with disabilities in the world today, half will never attend school at all, according to UNICEF estimates.
Those who do go to school, meanwhile, face limited access to course material, often causing them to fall behind compared to their peers.
Inclusion begins with the changing of mindsets and advocacy for the equal education of all children, regardless of their different abilities. At the same time, a growing range of technologies can provide content in digitally accessible formats, helping ensure equal access to information and knowledge in the classroom.
Accessible, inclusive educational solutions are at the forefront for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed on December 3, with a special focus this year on “Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fuelling an accessible and equitable world.”
Rapid advances in assistive technologies, backed up by ongoing innovations with artificial intelligence (AI), have created unprecedented opportunities to support persons with disabilities in living independent lives.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) works closely with its membership, with policy- and decision-makers, and with other stakeholders, to foster and implement digital accessibility, aimed at achieving the overarching global goal of digital inclusion of all citizens, without any discrimination.
Through “Accessible ICT for ALL” regional knowledge-development forums, ITU engages continually with key public- and private-sector information and communication technology (ICT) players to raise awareness of ICT accessibility as a key requirement for inclusion. Associated activities leverage knowledge through executive training, share best practices and challenges, and promote accessible digital solutions and innovative applications to support persons with disabilities in the digital space.
Starting with Accessible Americas in 2014, the regional “Accessible ICT for ALL” approach has since expanded around the world, with the latest events taking place from November 1-3, in Asia and the Pacific, from November 16-18 in the Americas, on December 6 in Europe, and on December 13 in the Arab Region.
Persons with and without disabilities must be included, equally and equitably, in today’s digital societies, environments, and economies. By recognizing technologies as a key enabler and by mainstreaming ICT accessibility across sectors, we can achieve an accessible digital world for all.
Digital inclusion for all
Equal treatment, regardless of age, gender, ability, or location, is a fundamental right for all. As our lives become ever more digital, equality and equity also hinge on digital inclusion.
Everyone in today’s world needs equal and equitable access to information, and to the use of digital services and products.
By helping countries define and implement ICT accessibility requirements, and by encouraging manufacturers to develop human centred technologies and embed accessibility features from the design stage, ITU aims to make digital spaces equitable for all.
ITU provides expert advice to policy- and decision-makers on ICT accessibility policies and strategies to support their effort in building inclusive digital societies and environments, which includes over 60 free resources in multiple languages to support everyone’s inclusion globally and thus also enable persons with disabilities to live independently in today’s digital world.
Targeted policies – taking account of the specific needs of persons with disabilities as end users – are crucial to ensure relevant digital access and use, as well as inclusive education, for all children and youth, including those with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities participate in the labour force much less than persons without disabilities, and their unemployment rate is higher.
Many employers are unfamiliar with basic accessibility principles. As a result, many online job portals present severe accessibility and usability barriers, so that persons with disabilities who try to apply for a job vacancy find it almost impossible to do so.
A forthcoming joint report from ITU and the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guidebook on accessibility of job application and recruitment system, shares recommendations to improve the accessibility and usability of online job application platforms, as well as practical steps and good practices to follow when recruiting persons with disabilities.
The report highlights risks of discrimination against candidates with disabilities using AI algorithm-based recruitment tools and offers recommendations on how to avoid bias. It also provides practical steps for creating and enforcing digital accessibility policies.