Print this page


Axel Leblois

  The Access Line

08/30/2009

Leading ICT Accessibility Policies Take Shape in Asia Pacific

Tell a Friend

Overview
Accessible TV broadcasting services in Japan
Large scale government programs; telecom accessibility for persons with disabilities defined as a Universal Service Obligation in Thailand
ICT Accessibility Defined by Thailand As a Universal Service Obligation
Anti-Discrimination and National Informatization acts define and protect disabled persons ICT accessibility rights in Korea
Accessibility is good business for Wireless Service Providers: NTT – DoCoMo Accessible Cell Phone Success Story
The demographic data gap needs to be resolved in the Asia Pacific Region

Overview

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UNESCAP) jointly organized, with the National Telecommunications Commission of Thailand and G3ict’s support, a three day meeting for Policy Makers and Regulators of the region held in Bangkok, August 25-27.  With over 140 delegates from 23 countries, this forum was the largest gathering in the Region specifically dedicated to the Digital Accessibility agenda of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Proceedings are available at: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/asp/CMS/Events/2009/PwDs/index.asp

The Asia Pacific Region has been a pioneer since the mid 90s in promoting ICT accessibility rights for persons with disabilities.  

Senator Monthian Buntan of Thailand reminded the audience of the contributions of the region, starting in Bangkok with a seminar in 1996 hosted by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  He also underlined the significance of the Manilla declaration and the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific as precursors to the accessibility dispositions of the Convention.  

As a result of this early focus, the awareness of ICT accessibility issues is high and many ICT accessibility dispositions of the Convention are already implemented, tested or under active consideration in the region.  Among notable results:

•    Several countries have comprehensive legislation, programs and benchmarks in place addressing ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities (see reports on Korea, Thailand and Australia PRESENTATION)
•    Universal Service Funds are increasingly made available to fund programs supporting accessible and assistive technologies.  Excellent case studies were presented from Thailand and Pakistan.  This is a very positive trend which opens the door to a significant source of funding, especially in those countries where large USF remain unutilized
•    Progress is notable in major areas such as cell phones (see report on NTT DoCoMo) and closed captioning for television (see report on NHK )
•    DAISY is making fast inroads in virtually all Asian markets.  Its features, availability as a free tool over the Internet and seamless integration in Microsoft’s WORD make it the preferred tool for organizations supporting blind persons, educators, governments, and wireless service providers such as NTT DoCoMo which offers a DAISY reader on its Raku Raku handset. See presentation by CHEW Tat Leong National Technology Officer (NTO) Microsoft Singapore  PRESENTATION
•    Web site accessibility is uneven with Korea having taken the most decisive steps and other nations in various stages of policy and programs.   In most countries the major issue facing policy makers is the lack of awareness of the issue and of the solutions.  One factor which may help, however, is the fact that in many Asia Pacific countries, web sites are largely accessed by cell phones for which W3C has specific guidelines.  The good news is that, according to Shadi Abou Zahra (W3C-WAI), when a web site is designed for cell phones, 80% of the work to make them accessible is already done.  
•    Cell phones which are in much greater numbers than any other ICT device represent a major opportunity for all countries since they may become the preferred platform for accessible services and assistive functionalities as demonstrated by NTT DoCoMo (see report here).  The many new accessibility features and assistive functionalities of cell phones see www.mobileaccessibility.info and report on Raku-Raku coupled with the increased availability of Universal Service Funds may support innovative programs by many governments and regulators in the region.

Accessible TV broadcasting services in Japan

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) guidelines stipulate that by the end of 2017, 100% of all programs should be closed-captioned including live programs (excepted when technically impossible).  According to Dr. Tohru Takagi, Senior Research Engineer at NHK Research Labs, as of 2009, 100% of NHK’s (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) pre-recorded programs are closed captioned.  With live programs, NHK’s overall captioning reaches 49.4%. 

Large scale government programs; telecom accessibility for persons with disabilities defined as a Universal Service Obligation in Thailand

A national program for inclusive ICTs started in 1995 under the auspices of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.  It includes a strong component dedicated to persons with disabilities and covers ICT accessibility and assistive technologies for independent living, rehabilitation, schools and the employability of persons with disabilities.  Since 14 years several ministries are actively involved in deploying solutions as well as private organizations affiliated to the project.  The education component of the program includes training of the teachers activities to promote the use of assistive technologies for students with disabilities in the classroom and the set up of a national lab to select best tools and practices.  It has invested in a variety of advanced experiments such as the Kavila School (pre-school to grade 12), for intellectually challenged and autistic students learning to express themselves following computer aided imaging methods. 

It supports a comprehensive national program for teaching sciences to the blind in secondary schools, summer camps and at university level, in cooperation with Tsukuba University. 

Finally, one of Thailand’s most progressive steps was its classification in 2008 of ICT accessibility as a Universal Service Obligation.  Such new definition will allow Universal Service Fund resources to be allocated to multiple ICT accessibility projects, notably in the field of telecommunications (see here explanations by Professor Prasit Prapinmongkolkarn, Commissioner, National Telecommunications Commission of Thailand)

ICT Accessibility Defined by Thailand As a Universal Service Obligation
Excerpts of speech given by Professor Prasit Prapinmongkolkarn
Commissioner, National Telecommunications Commission of Thailand at the ITU-UNESCAP G3ict Asia Pacific meeting

In 2008, the NTC adopted the 2nd Telecommunications Business Master Plan, which frames the national development of telecommunications business from Year 2008 – 2010. The Master Plan recognizes the needs of basic telecommunications services for persons with disabilities and hence specific targets and indicators are stipulated in the Master Plan particularly within the Universal Service Supply for Basic Telecommunications Services and Social Service framework or USO in short.

Within this USO framework, the NTC has mandates to, inter alia:
•    Have public telephone service and other service facilities installed for disabled as per the specific demand obtained from the surveys pursuant to the determined criteria, procedures and conditions;
•    Carry on the experimental pilot project and model tools for Telecommunication Relay Services or TRS supplied to the deaf; and to test the supply of TRS service;
•    Train people have no chance of learning for uses of computer and Internet;
•    Provide the information service in the Daisy-Digital Accessible Information System through the automatic system for the sight disabled by Year 2010.

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 benchmarks against successful practices in provision of telecommunication services for persons with disabilities in other countries. 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.

In connection to this study and in recognition of its mandate, NTC has entered into a MOU with NECTEC to develop a plan for establishment of Telephone Relay Services. The plan is expected to be completed before the end of this year. It is envisaged that the TRS will benefit more than 200,000 persons with hearing and speech impairments

Earlier this year, NTC also signed an MOU with the Thailand Association of the Blind to implement a project which will provide access to Daisy-Digital Accessible Information through 4-digit telephone number which will automatically feed Daisy-digital talking content to callers. The project targets about 200,000 persons with visual impairment and about 600,000 persons with reading disability. In addition, the MOU also makes provisions for training of trainers in the use of computers and information technology and in production of media and content targeting the blind.

In this respect, R&D in ICT for persons with disabilities and the elderly can best use ICT and mobile phone technology to benefit the persons with disabilities and the elderly and make their lives easier than ever before.

Anti-Discrimination and National Informatization acts define and protect disabled persons ICT accessibility rights in Korea

Mr. Joon-Ho Hyun , National Information Society Agency (formerly Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion), reviewed the two important acts passed by the Korean Legislator in 2007 and 2009.

•    The 2007 Korea Disability Discrimination Act:
   - Provides Information Access Rights
   - Provides reasonable accommodations in IT and communication
   - Defines the role of the governmental agencies
   - Sets Web accessibility obligations (2009 ~ 2015 years)
    • 2009 : Government Agencies and their Subsidiary, etc..
    • 2011 : University and College, Major hospitals, etc..
    • 2013 : Private Corporation, etc..
    • 2015 : Culture & Art Corporation

As of August 2009, the actual percentage of web sites that are accessible as surveyed by the Korean Government was over 90% for central and upper local government and 83% for lower level government, close to target of 100% by year-end.

•    The 2009 National Informatization Act in Korea specifically covers ICT access and usage for PWDs and the elderly:
   • Mandates Governmental agencies to respect web accessibility standards
   • Defines ICT accessibility guidelines  
   - Provides for Assistive Technology and ICT for PWDs
   - Promotes ICT access environment for PWDs and elderly people
   - Provides ICT Learning Opportunities for the underprivileged
   - Establishes the “National Information Society Agency (NIA)”

Accessibility is good business for Wireless Service Providers
NTT – DoCoMo Accessible Cell Phone Success Story

Mr. Ryuji Nagata, Manager of Product Department, NTT DoCoMo, Japan shared the latest results of the Raku-Raku family of handsets which had been presented in April 2008 at the ITU-G3ict Global Forum.  He gave an overview of:  the  Japanese cell phone market, the Universal Design approach of NTT DoCoMo, the Raku-Raku phone, the new features of the Raku-Raku phone and of the bone conduction receiver "Sound Leaf".
In Japan, cell phones have a penetration of 81% of the population and NTT DoCoMo a 50% market share.  The company, in its quest to reach out to the last segment of the market not yet converted to using cell phones, developed a systematic Universal Design approach “the Hearty Style” to address their needs.  It developed the Raku-Raku phone with the following features:
•    A large screen with large characters
•    Dedicated buttons to call certain pre-recorded numbers automatically
•    “Read aloud” menus and text
•    Voice input text messages and email
•    Access to a network of talking books (Bibulio-net, 12,395 titles as of March 2009) with an integrated DAISY player
•    An optional bone conductor receiver to transmit sound waves directly from bone to nerve

The results which Mr. Nagata announced at the forum were most impressive: 15 million Raku-Raku phones were sold representing a market penetration of 80% of the aged population in Japan.

The demographic data gap needs to be resolved in the Asia Pacific Region

One issue across the Asia Pacific region, however, is the lack of proper demographic statistics available to policy makers and regulators who, in certain cases, have to develop their own surveys to find out what the size of the population of disabled persons really is.  Whereas the World Health Organization estimate the percentage of persons living with disabilities to be 10% of the world population, most countries censuses in the Asia Pacific Region report figures representing a fraction of the WHO global estimate.  This obviously negatively impact government priorities and budget allocations as well as private sector’s perceptions of the ROI of accessible features of products and services. 

At a private meeting among representatives of various agencies held in Bangkok during the meeting, it was concluded that such gap should be reduced over time when data definition and collection methods agreed by the Washington Group are applied.  This is an important issue since traditional “medical” definitions may not work (for example, a person with macular degeneration may not be technically blind but cannot use a computer or phone) and the way questions are asked by census interviewers may inhibit the disclosing of an impairment.  

Overall, participants of this regional forum were most impressed by the political will, enthusiasm for improvements and the very pragmatic and proactive steps already taken to implement the ICT accessibility dispositions of the Convention by policy makers, regulators and civil society in all states represented, developed and developing countries alike.