Internet access for visually impaired is focus of UN workshop

5 February 2010

Nearly 200 cyber experts and other stakeholders seeking access to the Web for scores of millions of people with visual and other disabilities wrapped up a four-day United Nations workshop in Geneva today, stressing the need for universal access despite handicaps.

“The key to the information society is universal access and no one should be denied the potential benefits of ICTs [information and communication technologies], not least because they are hampered by their disabilities,” UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré said, noting that an estimated 650 million people live with disabilities worldwide.

“ICTs have the great merit of serving as a powerful equalizer of abilities, empowering persons with disabilities to fulfil their potential, realize their own dreams and ambitions, and take their place as active members of society.”

ITU, which co-organized the workshop with the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), focuses on a series of strategic issues ranging from the rights of the disabled to making technical design standards accessible to providing education and training on accessible ICTs.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry underlined the importance of accessibility in general and reaffirmed his agency’s commitment to establishing an accessible web environment that promotes easy access to intellectual property information in line with its visually impaired persons (VIP) initiative launched in 2008 to explore ways to facilitate and enhance access to literary, artistic and scientific works for the VIP community.

Mr. Gurry, noting that only 5 per cent of all published works are currently available in formats accessible to the VIP community, said WIPO and its member states are actively seeking to improve this situation. WIPO’s copyright committee is currently considering a draft treaty that would create an enabling legal environment to address exceptions and limitations to international copyright law.

A first workshop was hosted by WIPO last May, and the forums are in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which entered into force in 2008, which requires that accessibility be taken into account in the design of new information technologies and systems.

This week’s meeting brought together experts from the World Wide Web consortium, Mobile web initiative, Yahoo!, Adobe Systems Incorporated and the British Royal National Institute for Blind People. Participants agreed on the need for an annual workshop to keep abreast of technological developments and to share knowledge and experience of the issue within the UN system.

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