UNITED NATIONS, 26 July -- Improving access to new information technology for persons with disabilities will be the focus of this year’s International Day of Disabled Persons, the United Nations announced today.
The Day, which is marked on 3 December, seeks to promote the integration of people with disabilities into society.
Although access to information and communication technology (ICT) has created opportunities for everyone, these advances have been particularly meaningful for persons with disabilities, allowing them to overcome the societal barriers of prejudice, infrastructure and inaccessible formats that stand in the way of participation.
But, many persons with disabilities remain unable to take full advantage of the Internet, because most websites are inaccessible to the blind and visually impaired, heavily dependent on using the mouse, and because training is often conducted in inaccessible formats and venues. Most persons with disabilities do not have access to new information technology at all.
“The new computer-based information technologies have the potential for opening up a world of new opportunities for persons with disabilities,” said Sarbuland Khan, Executive Coordinator of the Secretariat of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development. “The problem is that new obstacles are preventing many of these people from reaching their potential. We want to promote good website design that allows all people to benefit from the new technology, and we want product developers to consider the needs of the disabled in their new designs.”
Governments, at the first World Summit on the Information Society in 2003 in Geneva, committed themselves to building a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge. By focusing on e-accessibility, this year’s Day of Disabled Persons is intended to mobilize action to allow persons with disabilities to participate in that global vision.
Persons with disabilities are at a considerable disadvantage by not being able to access information technology. For instance, as education becomes increasingly dependent on information technology, not being able to access the Internet limits the learning potential of persons with disabilities.
Several places already have legislation and regulations requiring websites to be fully accessible. Global standards and guidelines on website accessibility are being developed. Once adopted and ratified, the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will require that persons with disabilities can access information technology. It specifies that certain measures should be introduced to eliminate obstacles and barriers to information and communication, and to promote access for persons with disabilities to ICT, including the Internet.
“Making information technology available to persons with disabilities is not only a matter of human rights -- it also makes good business sense,” Mr. Khan said. “Studies suggest that accessible websites appear higher up the page rankings of search engines and can save costs on web maintenance.”
But many websites remain inaccessible for the visually impaired and the blind. A recent study of the FTSE 100 companies in the United Kingdom showed that around three quarters of company websites did not achieve basic levels of accessibility. By not making their websites accessible, British companies are forfeiting £80 million a year ($147 million) in lost revenue.
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