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31 Aug, 2009

Telecom Union Toolkit Boosts Travel Access For The Disabled

The revolution in Information Technology has transformed the travel & tourism industry like never before, and is now well placed to push forward into a new domain – making its products and services more user-friendly for the world’s estimated 650 million people with disabilities (PwDs).

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) last week released a toolkit designed to help the Information Communications Technology (ICT) industry do just that. The toolkit, posted at www.e-accessibilitytoolkit.org , will provide ICT developers in the travel & tourism industry with a great resource to join this global effort.

In addition to opening up an entirely new customer base amongst PwDs as travellers, it will also enable the travel & tourism industry to boost the number of PwDs that it employs.

The Toolkit was released at the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Mainstreaming ICT Accessibility for PwDs organised by the ITU along with numerous other local, global and private sector partners. Hosted and supported by Thailand’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), the forum was attended by more than 140 participants including persons with different type of disabilities from over 20 countries.

Travel by people with disabilities is expected to be one of the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry in the years to come. For those wishing to get a head-start on doing additional research, last week’s forum to launch the toolkit provided a wealth of information. All the presentations and speeches have been posted on the programme website.

As the toolkit has just been launched, many of its key topics are still blank. However, the best starting point is the case study link where numerous examples have been posted of individuals and companies which have done a lot of work and are willing to share their experiences and technologies.

Said the Bangkok-based head of the ITU Regional Office, Dr Eun-Ju Kim, “In the knowledge-driven information age and society, it is a high time to design and implement ICT inclusive policy to provide digital opportunities to PwDs.”

Dr Kim pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10% of the world’s populations or about 650 million peoples have some type of disability: For instance, about 15% in Europe; over 60 million in China, 16 million in India, 7 million in Japan, 4 million in Vietnam and around 1.9 million or about 2.9% of the population in Thailand, whilst many of the populations encounter barriers when using ICT products and services.

“The number is increasing every year due to various factors such as war, destruction, unhealthy living conditions, or the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention and treatment, in addition to the aging societies especially in the developed economies like Europe, Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea and so on.”

Dr Kim noted that existing ICT products and services such as websites and mobile phones were not designed with principles of accessibility in the beginning and hence are difficult for PwD to use.

“The most obvious example is web accessibility. It is important to highlight that it costs dramatically less to implement web accessibility at the design stage than to retrofit it later. Thus, it is worth emphasizing the important roles of not only policy-makers and regulators but also industries, which can contribute to not only appropriate designs but also affordable ICT products and services for PwD, taking into account the potential markets in the aged society.”

He stressed that ICT accessibility and affordability to the PwD can yield major socio-economic benefits. ICT allows persons who are born with disabilities to gain employment, which in return offers empowerment of PwD in the information society. It also helps persons who gain disabilities during their lives to continue to work while contributing to the society.

ICT is also useful for older persons, who lose dexterity or use of senses, whilst many developed economies are fast reaching their populations aged, Dr Kim added. “Thus, ICT will continue to support the socio-economic needs of a growing number of persons in different forms of disabilities in the years to come, which can be a potential future market for the industry to prepare.”

Professor Prasit Prapinmongkolkarn, Commissioner, National Telecommunications Commission of Thailand (NTC), told the meeting that the NTC in collaboration with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center or NECTEC have recently concluded a study report on “Measures for providing telecommunication services for persons with disabilities and the elderly in Thailand.”

The study shows that although different disabilities have different needs, some common requirements are found in such areas as: Design and standard, Availability, Accessibility, Affordability, Quality, Emergency services, Accessibility, and Special services such as relay service, messaging phone, and closed captioning.

As a follow up to the study, NTC has entered into a MOU with NECTEC to develop a plan for establishment of Telecommunication Relay Services which will benefit more than 200,000 persons with hearing and speech impairments. The plan is expected to be completed before the end of this year.

ITU: Eun-Ju Kim 3 / 3

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