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Cynthia Waddell

  ICT Accessibility & Government Services Blog


Reporting from Lisbon and London- the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) and The Inter-Parliamentary Union CPRD Regional Seminar

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Lisbon, Portugal, was the venue of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum in 2009 for a global discussion of strategies and policies of high current policy interest in the changing telecommunication environment.

It was a privilege to serve as the accessibility expert on the U.S. Department of State Delegation and to participate as an invited expert in a forum where four key issues were discussed:

1)    Convergence and Internet-related public policy matters;

2)    Next generation networks;

3)    Emerging telecommunication policy and regulatory issues; and

4)    International Telecommunication Regulations.

Of particular interest was the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General’s Report for the World Telecommunication Policy Forum and the accessibility provisions it did not contain.  At the request of my delegation, I submitted the report language that is now found in Section 5: Emerging Telecommunication Policy & Regulatory Issues at 5.3.8 “Accessible ICT (Information and Communications Technology) for Persons with Disabilities.”

In a forum where this report was subject to editing by the ITU Member States, it was wonderful to see that the accessible ICT policy issues and language that I submitted to create this section was accepted as written.  See Secretary-General’s Report for the World Telecommunication Policy Forum at

Perhaps the most visible acknowledgement of accessibility during the Forum was the ground-breaking provision of real time captioning for the first time.  It was during the preparatory meetings in Geneva, Switzerland, that ITU first began to offer real-time captioning services so that I could participate due to my hearing loss.  Yet it was during these Geneva preparatory meetings that we saw the many benefits of real-time captioning.  We learned first-hand that captioning was also assisting delegations whose mother tongue was not English.  We also found it helpful to have the captioning transcript available for reference after our deliberations.  It became clear that you did not have to have a hearing loss to benefit from this accessibility feature for meetings!

Here is a picture of my laptop showing the captioning being streamed onto a website.  The picture also shows that captioning was being displayed on the conference venue screen for all participants.  By the way, having the captioning on my screen allowed me to stop the scrolling and to go back and review previous statements by delegates on the fly.  I could then quickly return to the current speaker and catch up to what was being said by the current speaker.   The vendor that provided this wonderful service was CaptionFirst and I highly recommend them.  Check them out at

Picture of meeting with Real Time Captioning system 

I found Lisbon and its people to be a beautiful and very friendly City.  Seeing their 25 de Abril Bridge and the Christo Rei made me wonder if I was both in San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro at the same time! 

Right after the WTPF, I hopped over to the British Isle.

At the request of the British Group, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), I accepted an invitation to speak at a regional seminar to inform parliamentarians from various countries about the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and how they can encourage their Governments to ratify and implement this important human rights treaty.

The agenda topics during the two day seminar were introduced by Members of Parliament, experts and representatives of international and regional human rights bodies.  The emphasis of the meeting was on discussion and thematic debate – with a view to allowing ample time for a free exchange of views.  It was certainly an honor to participate and to learn from the parliamentarians.

My topic fell under Session I: What does the Convention Cover? with a focus on the Accessibility provisions of the Convention.  Having served as the United Nations Ad Hoc Committee expert on accessibility for the built environment and ICT (Information and Communications Technology) during the drafting of the treaty, I presented my analysis of the provisions. 

I also discussed the accessible design of mainstream technology and pointed to the Kindle 2 controversy that was brewing in the U.S.  Advancements in mainstream technologies along with the growing convergence of audio, text and video functionalities enable the accessible design of mainstream technology never before possible.  The text-to-speech features of the Kindle 2 would, for the first time in history, provide a wireless electronic book with easy access for a wide spectrum of persons who cannot read print.  Yet due to a copyright dispute, the text-to-speech features were being turned off by various authors and publishing houses.  It appears that copyright laws may need to be revisited and adjusted to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.  There also may be other technology related laws that may come into scrutiny as countries begin to implement the Convention.

Here are some pictures of the event held at the Houses of Parliament:

Cynthia Waddell giving Keynote at IPU regional seminar on the Convention

Distinguished participants (from left to right): His Excellency, Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States, former Chair of the UN Ad Hoc Committee and G3ict Chairman; Rachel Hurst, OBE, Director, Disability Awareness in Action; Dr. Roger Berry MP, Co-Chair of the Disabilities All Party Group; and Mohammed Al-Tarawneh, Chair, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Picture of audience at Inter-Parliamentary Union Regional Seminar on the Convention