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The Access Line
Leading ICT Accessibility Policies Take Shape in Asia Pacific
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 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.aspThe 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.
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 ThailandA 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 ObligationIn 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.