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ICT Accessibility & Government Services Blog
Reporting from Lusaka, Zambia
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) held a regional workshop on ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in the African region from July 15 through 16, 2008. The event was attended by 69 participants representing 20 African countries: Angola, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The website of this workshop, including all relevant documents, is online at http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/sis/PwDs/Seminars/Zambia/index.html.
During the two day workshop, ITU put me to work giving seven presentations on a variety of topics. I also facilitated realtime web captioning for the event where English was displayed on a screen as it was spoken and translated from French. As some of you may know, captioning enables persons with hearing loss or who have English as a second language, to read the words as they are being spoken. ITU contracted with Caption First to Skype the audio from Africa to writers in the United States who posted the captioning on a website for us to view. A number of workshop attendees spoke to me during the event to ask more about it and to say how much the captioning assisted them in following the proceedings. (And they did not have a disability!) My presentation the following day on captioning and CART (Communication access realtime translation) was received with great interest.
Although we had a number of power outages during the event which disconnected us from our satellite Internet connection, we were able to resume captioning as needed. Many thanks to the remote captioning writers who were on the ball and definitely in a different time zone than we were!
In addition to providing CART, ITU also provided sign language interpreters for a number of attendees having a sign-based language. As for accessible materials, one attendee specifically asked for a Braille version of the conference materials when he arrived. After further consultation with DAISY representatives and the attendee, it was agreed that a DAISY talking book (DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System), would be made available on a MP3 player so that the attendee could listen to the workshop presentations and papers. This was another benefit for captioning the event since the words of the presenters were captured for archival and DAISY purposes.
The outcome of the workshop was the Lusaka Declaration on Supporting Access to Information and Communication Technologies and Services for Persons with Disabilities. This declaration will be posted on the workshop website as soon as it is possible.
The Lusaka Declaration is significant for a number of reasons. First, it is the second declaration issued at an ITU regional meeting since the World Summit on the Information Society and the World Telecommunication Development Conference Global Initiative 56 on “Access to telecommunication services for Persons with Disabilities.” The first one, issued in Cairo in November, 2007, is online at http://www.ituarabic.org/2007/Disabilities/.
Fourth, the sharing of disability rights laws and efforts by the countries was eye opening as the attendees compared and contrasted legal structures for accessible ITC. The Declaration calls for accessible ICT to be in place as the African region moves forward to implement the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And finally, the Declaration points to the Lusaka workshop country reports that demonstrate the lack of statistics on the number of persons with disabilities living in the African region. As the Burundi report stated, “No data means no budget and thus no action.” Statistics are needed because without statistics, it is very difficult to plan for meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.
There are many other issues in the Declaration and I would encourage you to take a look at it once it is posted. Now it is up to the accessible ICT evangelists who have returned to their country. Stay tuned for the next regional meeting. Signing off, Cynthia Waddell.
Cynthia Waddell's Zambia Background Paper ("Meeting ICT Access and Service Needs for Persons with Disabilities") is available at