Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tech expert tells Qatar it must make technology fully accessible to people with disabilities

From the Gulf Times in Qatar:

There is a risk that people with disabilities will be excluded from essential services and social interaction if information and communication technology interfaces are not accessible, it was observed Nov. 8.

“To avoid the risks of excluding PWDs and ensuring they have access to assistive technologies, there should be a general mandate to promote research and development, ICT products development based on universal design and it is an obligation for states to set accessibility standards,” the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies – G3ict founder and executive director Axel Leblois said Nov. 8.

He was making a keynote address titled: ‘Developing an Accessible ICT Ecosystem for Qatar’ at the first assistive technology seminar series organised by the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre (Mada).

Mada – a brainchild of ictQATAR- is a non-profit organisation that empowers and enables people with disabilities through information communication technology.

The aims of the seminar were to highlight key issues in providing digital access to PWDs and to discuss main issues and challenges in building a barrier free ICT ecosystem.

Leblois mentioned that there had been a massive increase in ICT usage with 1.1bn personal computer, 2bn Internet users, 1.2bn telephone landlines, 2.3bn television sets, 2.3bn radios, 5bn+ cell phones and hundreds of billions of text message.

The ICT expert, who shared perspectives on international trends in information technology accessibility and eco-system said international exchanges and co-operation were useful for corporate experiences.

“To ensure PWDs inclusion in the ever dynamic ICT world, three eco-system building blocks are required, that is, there should be accessible information infrastructure (mobile phones, fixed phones and TV broadcasting); assistive technology should be integrated into education, in the workplace and via rehabilitation centre; and websites and digital contents of both public and private services should be accessible,” he explained.

He said that ictQATAR and Mada were well positioned to promote solutions and support stakeholders in the field of assistive technology.

Speaking to mediapersons, the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) secretary general Dr Hessa al-Jaber said the council was 100% compliant in ensuring that private and public entities provide applications that comply with assistive technology standards.

“ictQATAR will work with other government organisations to ensure that they follow the standard. We will also partner with the two communication providers in ensuring that they provide handsets that provide accessibility to PWDs,” she mentioned.

Mada chief executive officer Faleh al-Naemi said that the centre will soon partner with G3ict on a number of initiatives, especially in the area of research and development.

“Right now, there is limited web accessibility, physical accessibility and transport accessibility for PWDs and that is why our focus at Mada is to make assistive technology accessible apart from raising awareness and providing training for individuals and professionals,” he said.

He disclosed that the centre was working with many vendors to develop an Arabic version of its resource materials.

“At Mada, we have in place a number of assistive technologies such as computer software that reads the screen for the blind, eye-pointing – Tobii eye tracking devices, voice recognition software, switch solutions for people with physical needs and word prediction for those having writing difficulty due to a condition called dyslexia,” he added.