Accessible Arab Region: ICT for All - ESCWA
2 December 2021
10:00–13:00

Beirut time

Conference

Accessible Arab Region: ICT for All

Location
  • Online
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ESCWA and the International Telecommunication Union are inviting member States and regional stakeholders to collaborate on ways to prioritize and implement digital accessibility, focusing on promoting inclusiveness. For persons with disabilities, technology promises better quality of life, greater social and economic access, self-empowerment and independent living.

The event is an opportunity to share experiences and good practices on information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility; discuss challenges and approaches to eliminating barriers to ICT access, thus enabling human development; and promote accessibility policies that will improve quality of life universally.

Aims included knowledge-sharing on actions and initiatives that promote the implementation of policies, strategies and resource management to ensure inclusiveness in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy and other related global commitments. The event offers networking and partnership opportunities to stakeholders and member States so as to facilitate the development of digitally inclusive societies in the region.

Outcome document

  • For the first time, ITU and ESCWA are organizing this event in the Arab region to raise awareness about the importance of digital accessibility and to provide a platform for dialogue, sharing best practices, knowledge and initiatives. Both organizations hope to replicate this experience and become an annual event inviting more partners from various stakeholders to join.
  • A holistic multi-stakeholder’s approach is needed to achieve Accessible Arab Region.
  • Policymakers are encouraged to include in the regional and national development strategies policies related to digital accessibility as a catalyst for broader social and economic participation, thus reducing the digital divide and inequality between population groups and ensuring digital inclusion for all persons, including those with disabilities. Governments in the Arab region are invited to develop ICT Accessibility strategies and policies that encourage innovation, partnerships, and entrepreneurships, and to take advantage of the regional templates and tools developed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU Academy) and ESCWA (Arab Digital Inclusion Platform) and other international and national initiatives that participated in this event.
  • Encourage the public and private sectors as well as manufacturers to develop and deliver digitally accessible technologies, platforms and products. Governments can lead by example.
  • Arab policymakers are encouraged to develop/enhance their national policies and technical guidelines for digital/ICT accessibility and engage all sectors and not only those related to technology, and mainly the Organizations for People with Disabilities.
  • Need to support innovators and entrepreneurs in the Arab region to develop local solutions to empower persons with disabilities to access ICT tools and services.
  • Organizations for People with Disabilities play an important role in disseminating the knowledge of accessible tools and services and need to be engaged in early stages of e-Accessibility policy/application development.

Mr. Ahmed Al-Raghy, Senior Advisor at the ITU Arab regional office presented ITU’s opening remarks on behalf of Mr. Adel Darwish, Director of ITU Arab regional office. Mr. AlRaghy welcomed participants to this first of its kind event, the result of a fruitful collaboration between ITU and ESCWA. The event comes as part of the “Digital Inclusion Week” which ITU organizes with UNESCO for the fifth year in a row. Al-Raghy noted that the hope from these events is to support digital inclusion in the Arab Region in collaboration with all stakeholders. In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, digital inclusion becomes even more important to ensure social justice and equal access to services. He emphasized that persons with disabilities comprise 15% of the world population, and 80% of them live in developing countries. He noted that technology has great potential to remove the barriers that hinder the inclusion of persons with disabilities, whether in the labour market, government and financial services, health, education and communication. He then shared a video by ITU showcasing the importance of digital inclusion. 

Mr. Haidar Fraihat, Leader of the Statistics, Information Society, and Technology Cluster at ESCWA, welcomed the partners and participants to the first “Accessible Arab Region” event, which he hopes will become an annual event. He noted that today’s event is a platform for knowledge exchange, collaboration, and networking. He noted that COVID-19 has widened the digital gap and increased the need for better inclusion of persons with disabilities and all marginalized groups. He noted that persons with disabilities are 15% of the world population, a group of people we cannot leave behind. Persons with disabilities should be included in society and ensure they can reach their potential in the labour market, in communal development, in their knowledge and creativity, and in ICT. Digital inclusion is key to achieve all these things. He added that one of the main priority areas that ESCWA is currently focusing on is digital accessibility and launched a dedicated initiative called “Arab Digital Inclusion Platform” to help policy makers in the region improving / developing their national policies and technical guidelines in the field of e accessibility.

Mr. Michael Haddad, UNDP Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Action, welcomed participants to this important event. He noted that persons with disabilities face many barriers in the Arab region leading to their marginalization, and platforms like this are important to hear their voice. He noted the important role for digital inclusion and assistive technology to remove barriers. He mentioned his own example, as someone who become paralyzed from the chest down following an accident when he was 6 years old. He lost 75% of his mobile motor functions. After years of training, he was able to stand up and walk with an exoskeleton— a feat deemed medically impossible. He emphasized that technology and innovation has great potentials and there is a need to invest in digital inclusion. Lastly, he noted that he was giving his speech from Bahrain, where he was opening the “Asian Youth Paralympic Games” and where he will be breaking a new sports record. He noted the important role sports can play is helping the inclusion of youth and persons with disabilities. 

ESCWA’s “National e-accessibility policy template for the Arab region” was presented, which was prepared under the Arab Digital Inclusion Platform project. The template was converted into an interactive tool available online. Mada Center’s work was presented. Mada’s vision is to improve e- accessibility in Qatar and the world, through supporting the potential of all people with functional impairments like persons with disabilities and older persons. The Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship presented the Jordan experience in digital accessibility, where Jordan aims to ensure everyone is society has access to government services, also to unify standards to ensure accessibility.

This session discussed the importance of digital accessibility platforms and initiatives. It started by reviewing the “Billion-Strong initiative” that aims to unite and empower the global community of people with disabilities to develop a positive disability identity. This session also discussed the “Knowledge Development Platform” developed by ITU Academy, which helps creating the enabling governmental, economic and technological environment for everyone and everything to connect. ESCWA’s “Arab Digital Inclusion Platform” was presented; it supports policy makers in Arab countries to develop/improve their national policies and guidelines to enhance e-accessibility and therefore bridging the digital divide.

This session focused on the importance of partnerships and innovation for digital accessibility. It reviewed the “Hackathon initiative” by Alesco, which aims to support the Arab industry for mobile applications especially in the field of education. “ABLE initiative” by AUB was covered; it aims at increasing the success rates of students with disabilities, and developing accessibility to IT resources. Furthermore, “Partners for Sustainable Development” that establishes inclusive education units with e-accessibility aids was presented in addition to the “Prototype of Brail language Converter” developed by university students to help blind people to distinguish letters on a large hardware tool.

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