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Cynthia Waddell

  ICT Accessibility & Government Services Blog

12/14/2007

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgrade, Serbia

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This month the International Day for Persons with Disabilities was celebrated worldwide and this was especially true in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a privilege to keynote in Belgrade at the International Conference on Accessibility of Web Content and Digital Documents for Persons with Special Needs. Coordinated by Vedran Vucic of the GNU Linux Center, the event was held from 3 December through 5 December 2007. Mark Urban joined me from the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet as well as our colleague, Emmanuelle Gutierrez y Restrepo from Sidar.

Sponsored by the Republic of Serbia Ministry of Labor and Social Work and the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Society, this event enabled dialogue between experts in the field of accessibility, NGOs and the government and addressed the legal, political and technological aspects of accessibility and best practices.

The timing of the conference could not be better, given the reconstruction effort underway in Serbia. More specifically, due to the desire of the government of the Republic of Serbia to leapfrog development gaps and prepare the country for membership in the European Union, the government has made the strategic decision to base its growth on ICT. This means that accessibility can be addressed at the outset.

As Vedran Vucic noted, this conference was not to be just another one singularly devoted to talk about accessibility. The goal of the conference was to engage the participants and stakeholders and included many meetings with government ministries and academic and publishing house entities. It was heartening to hear the government express their willingness to make web sites and digital documents accessible and to take additional steps to implement accessibility so that persons with disabilities can access information and knowledge and participate in society. As a result of the conference, concrete actions are underway to implement accessibility. (For more, stay tuned to a future blog.)

It was also an honor to meet Boris Tadic, the President of Serbia, who personally told me that this month he will be sending an envoy to New York to sign the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as the Optional Protocol. It was very appropriate to hear this news during our meeting at the 3 December evening celebration on International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Belgrade is the seat of Serbian culture, and so it was a treat to join members of parliament, artists, musicians and NGO leaders during the celebration. The talent show was varied and included a video of dancers in wheelchairs. Not to mention that the food was excellent.

Oh yes, so what did my keynotes cover? On the first day of the conference I discussed the big picture issues of Web Barriers and eInclusion along with what I call the signs of a global inclusive society shift. On the second day of the conference, I focused narrowly on the U.S. Section 508 as an example of a national procurement law wrapped around a disability rights requirement and then I spent most of my talk specifically discussing the ICT obligations of the States in the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. These ICT obligations mean that Serbia will need to align national laws and regulations in conformance with the Convention.

My colleague, Mark Urban, expertly addressed planning and implementation for accessible online government services as well as tools and training strategies. Emmanuelle Gutierrez y Restrepo from Sidar spoke about the accessibility effort in Europe and gave an excellent presentation on the semantic web. Representatives from government entities also spoke about their commitment to addressing accessibility.

One of the difficulties in any endeavor is to find resources in the native language of the country I am trying to assist. This past year my book, Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance, was translated into Japanese and now it appears that it will be translated into another language - you guessed it- Serbian!

I certainly look forward to returning to Belgrade in 2008 to provide additional education, outreach and technical training on accessible ICT. Not to mention another opportunity to enjoy that great hot chocolate served at the Russian Tsar cafe!